Peter Van Huffel/Alex Maksymiw

Kronix
Fresh Sound/New Talent FSNT 488

By Ken Waxman

A reductionist take on improvisation by two Canadian expats who have joined Berlin’s ever-burgeoning music scene, Kronix indicates the spectrum of timbres that can be propelled by just saxophone and guitar. Still Toronto six-stringer Alex Maksymiw, who has worked with the Village Vanguard Orchestra and bassist Don Thomposon’s band, appears to be more stylistically conventional than Kingston-native, alto saxophonist Peter Van Huffel, whose background includes membership in punk-jazz trio Gorilla Mask. Being polite Canadians of course, the two don’t allow potential sonic incompatibility to upset neighborliness, and like your average federal-provincial conference, the 10 originals include both comfort and challenges.

Surprisingly not all of the soothing melodies come from Maksymiw. In fact, his “Petrichor” is bolstered with a shrieking Heavy Metal-styled buzzing following a folksy introduction. From that point on the tune divides into ping-ponged singular reed bites and single-string taps. Although eminently capable of playing understated Paul Desmond to the guitarist’s relaxed Jim Hall-like strums, Van Huffel’s seven compositions are more abrasive – like a Pierre Trudeau compared to a Justin Trudeau pronouncement. Still, either prime minister would be happy to experience political harmony as profound as the musical harmony on “Fuse”, where reserved or sprayed guitar flanges perfectly match outward moving split tones from the saxophonist.

Besides rock music-like inflections in Maksymiw’s picking, both players take advantage of subtle, though un-credited electronic processing on some selections. By the mid-section of “Anyhow” for example, echoing multiphonics audible in higher and lower pitches fatten Van Huffel’s staccato exposition and are soon joined by a sustained buzzing crunch from Maksymiw. “Happenstance” is the most memorable track however. More dramatic and violent than a Quebec referendum, electronics aid saxophone split tones in pushing into the stratosphere, while repetative string strokes are both atmospheric and built up with enough power to suggest an Ontario Hydro grid.

Agreeable in parts, angular in others, the compositions here demonstrate what musical heights can be reached with only two instruments. Still Van Huffel and Maksymiw are skilled enough to welcome additional players next time out.

—For MusicWorks #125 Summer 2016