Sousa/Berthling/Ferrandini

Casa Futuro
Clean Feed CF 334 CD

Arashi

Semikujira

Trost TR 146

Musically self-effacing at least in terms of projecting himself into mass public consciousness, Swedish bassist Johan Berthling works in various groups with Mats Gustafsson and others, whole dabbling in avant-pop and production. However like the pinch hitter brought into the ball game when true expertise is needed, these similarly constituted trio sessions benefit from his modest bottom-accentuated conceptions.

Consisting of veteran Japanese alto saxophonist/clarinetist Akira Sakata and perpetually busy Norwegian percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love plus Berthling, Arashi is a long constituted trio, whose sounds are a contemporary extension of the Nipponese Free Jazz the reedist has been playing since the 1970s. While working in a comparably energetic and euphonious fashion, the trio on Casa Futuro is an ad-hoc affair, with younger players bringing their own concepts to the music; building a sonic structure close to what earlier Free Music players framed, but without copying that edifice in detail or functionality. The other players are Portuguese, tenor and baritone saxophonist Pedro Sousa, part of a few other Lisbon-based bands, and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini, a member of the Red Trio and Rodrigo Amado’s Motion Trio.

With no designated leader, the Swedish-Portuguese group is like a 19th Century diorama, producing exciting, ever changing musical pictures though sheer acoustic power. During the course of three extended tracks, the band members sub-divide into duos and solo sections, with say, Berthling’s tremolo low pitches almost replicating Sousa’s baritone saxophone bellows; or strident air coloring from the tenor saxophone making common cause with sudden, sharp cymbal clanks. If Sousa and Ferrandini are like water skiers performing nautical acrobatics as they trail behind a boat, then it’s the bassist whose steadfast ostinato keeps the musical craft from capsizing. As well on a track appropriately titled “Durability”, the saxophonist provides evidence that barely-there blowing can be as effective in making an impression. as his solos on other tracks where ejaculated vibrations as opaque and unyielding as tempered steel. During the introduction to “Utility” and elsewhere moreover, the drummer demonstrates the impression seemingly endless churning accents can make when displayed next to clenched split tones. Elsewhere a focused bell-ping is just as effective for asserting himself besides waterfalls of whiny reed trills. With his plucking motions often so chunky that they resonate in circles around the others, and so powerful that it appears he’s yanking finish off the strings as he plays, Berthling makes the others’ output appear freer.

Berthling performs a similar function on Semikujira since Sakata’s and Nilssen-Love’s delivery is such that it makes the corresponding improvisers on the other disc appear as if they’re miming rather than exercising their instruments. Considering that Sakata is apt to break into a ferocious barking and growling vocal glossolalia in the midst of a solo, the instrumental expositions are so comparably war-like that each track could be the musical depiction of a bloody battle. With timbres often teetering as if they’re balancing on the edge of a samurai sword, Arashi is able to create overwrought narratives like “Blow of Humpback Whale” where the torque output would make that mammal’s song sound like an instance of microtonalism. With the saxophonist’s output frequently climbing past altissimo towards even higher pitches, and Nilssen-Love’s commanding drum emphasis suggesting rocket launching power, Berthling’s roly-poly yet functional accents serve as the anchor to keep this amphibious vessel that is the trio’s improvisational program from either hurtling off into uncharted waters or vanishing into the deep sea miasma of incomprehension.

“Saitaro Bushi-Atlantis-Version” is the defining track here. Almost overpowering on its intense twists and turns, the supposition is that like Monk’s shuffle steps, Sakata may be vocalizing as a method of conduction. Certainly his growled ferocity both verbally and in the output of his horns, makes it appears that he has transformed a Viking warrior’s berserker fighting philosophy into a solo blueprint. To make a jazz correlation: suture Ayler and Brötzmann together. For his part the drummer outputs the equivalent of flame throwing challenges from his kit while rolling out a shifting back beat. Concurrently the bassist does Paul Chambers or Jimmy Garrison one better by simultaneously accompanying and guiding the playing. Still Arashi proves it’s no New Thing reincarnation. On the track’s penultimate minutes exposition is smoothed via a flat line trill from the saxophonist, complemented with woody bass shuffles and gong resonation. Here and on the final and title track temple-bell-like shakes not only muffle the sonic apocalypse but also confirm the Janus-faced East and West originality of the trio.

More to the point Berthling’s bass playing is the glue that holds both bands together.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Casa: 1. Durability 2. Utility 3. Beauty

Personnel: Casa: Pedro Sousa (tenor and baritone saxophones); Johan Berthling (bass) and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums)

Track Listing: Semikujira: 1. Snowing on the Temple Garden 2. Blow of Humpback Whale 3. Saitaro Bushi-Atlantis Version 4. Sheep said again Wolf is Coming 5. Semikujira

Personnel: Semikujira: Akira Sakata (alto saxophone, clarinet and voice); Johan Berthling (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums and percussion)