Andreas Willers/Urs Leimgruber

Pale White Shout
Jazz Werkstatt JW 170

Urs Leimgruber/Alex Huber

Lightnings

Wide Ear Records 018

One of the advantages of committed Free improvisation is that like a spider, it frequently can grow new limbs to solidify its evolution while maintaining its habitual structure. In some cases these newly grown extremities result from relationships with new musicians. These CDs show how a veteran free player, like a chess master’s initial match with a contender, quickly decides which strategies work and which should be altered in a new situation.

Lucerne-based soprano and tenor saxophonist Urs Leimgruber has been involved with stretching the boundaries of improvisation for decades, first as part of the band OM, then collaborating with figures as disparate as pianist John Wolf Brennan and bassist Joëlle Léandre. Only infrequently does he record in duo, yet each of those CDs is a first-time meeting as well as a two-person exploration. On Lightnings, Leimgruber duets with drummer Alex Huber from Zug, whose other reed partners have included Silke Eberhard and Philipp Gropper. Pale White Shout finds the saxophonist in the company of Berlin-based guitarist Andreas Willers Involved in advanced music sine the 1980s, Willers’ more recent reed associates have been Frank Paul Schubert and Peter Van Huffel.

Like a fulfilled prophecy Lightnings’ drum-saxophones format brings out the most overtly John Coltrane-like phasing from Leimgruber as well as tracks close to Free Jazz. Like unexpected spices added to a stew, these tangy additions flavor the narrative in unxpect6ed ways. Not only do they allow the tenor saxophonist to position some masterful reed designators in the repast, but they also help swirl into a pleasing dish, disparate raw ingredients that appeared singly as cymbal crumbles and jagged wedges of fowl-like peeping on the saxophonist’s part. With Huber matching Leimgruber’s output sympathetically, the result is a balanced partnership which extends an accepted duo practice while framing it with Swiss efficiency. While the introductory and concluding tracks map the inflated and diminished menu of timbral interaction, often plating them like paired appetizers or spectacularly showcasing them in isolation, kitchen-crew-like cooperation is most appetizing during the main courses of “Shaped” and “Resistant”. As carefully organized as dinner at a Michelin-starred resto, the first feast works up from appetizers t as tonic as they are minimal, to a synthesis of cymbal pops and rim shots that glaze narrow circular breathed slurs that could be musical nouvelle cuisine. With more tongue in his slaps than is available at most delicatessens, Leimgruber aurally displays the main course on “Resistant”. Eventually his winnowing flutters move to a feast of accented timbres and watery blows perfectly complemented by garbage-can-like smacks and clatters from Huber.

If for some Lightnings is too stuffed with Jazz-like calories, then perhaps Pale White Shout would appeal as a vegan option. The 10 menu selections are also more attuned to the slicing, dicing and julienning Willers’ electrified instrument can bring to the preparation of this musical meal. As motorized as a mechanical food processer, the flanges, buzzes, squeaks and whizzes that emanate from the guitar add electric options to the slow-cooking methods on tap. Additionally while Leimgruber’s vibrations can become as sour as vinegar as harsh as horseradish and as narrow as breadsticks, a basic nutritious humanness remains part of his serving. The menu also has as many options as a multi-page bill of fare. Set meals can be like “Entrance IV” where squeezed tongue flutters meet hand-tapped string percussion for proper contrast or like “Entrance VI” where the stinging string plucks and snorted horn resonations put a Blues-coloration on the duo’s work. Recorded live, the two become most relaxed as the meal progresses. Latterly amuses gueules in the form of textures that appear to be dug from the horn’s body tube as well as greasy smears related to the guitarist’s fast-fingering.

Reaching a climax with “Face to face III” this post-desert course is made up of extended slams and reverberations that suggest both simple ditties like “Tea for Two” and innovated timbres that replace conventional chords the way vitamins supplement food intake. Finally with full-belly shaking ferocity on “Face out” they diet away to silence.

Those interested in stocking their larders with nutritious Free Music would be well advised to sample the delicacies displayed on both discs. In each instance they show how different cuisines or musical ideas from different players can be combined effectively and appetizingly.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Lightnings: 1. Swift 2. Shaped 3. Resistant 4. Struck

Personnel: Lightnings: Urs Leimgruber (soprano and tenor saxophones) and Alex Huber (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Pale: 1. Entrance I 2. Entrance II 3. Entrance III 4. Entrance IV 5. Entrance V 6. Entrance VI 7. Face to face I 8. Face to face II 9. Face to face III 10. Face out

Personnel: Pale: Urs Leimgruber (soprano and tenor saxophones) and Andreas Willers (guitar)