Boxed Set

Barry Guy Blue Shroud Band Small Formations
Tensegrity NotTwo MW938-2

By Ken Waxman

Rather like viewing short films made during breaks from the larger project by participants in a feature, Tensegrity preserves small-group sets that took place in the evenings following rehearsals of Barry Guy’s Blue Shroud orchestral project. Recorded at Krakow’s Jazz Autumn in November 2014, the four CDs consist of 26 performances that confirm the adaptability of the band’s 14 members. With the exception of two tracks featuring violinist Maya Homburger, sounds are all improvised. The skill and sophistication of the players from Greece, Spain, Norway, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, France, the US and the UK, demonstrated that, cross-border musical interchange works more successfully than political alliances.

Although Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández uses wood blocks and preparations to dig into the subterranean bowls of the piano on CD#1’s first track, his co-operative reflexes are more noticeable on “AF/PE” when Fernández’s ratcheting string resonations answer and echo American trumpeter Peter Evans’ rapid-fire snorts and screeches. Evans’ aural jujitsu is aptly matched with Norwegian Torben Snekkestad’s reed trumpet and soprano saxophone on “PE/TS” where counterpoint is evident alongside stamina and dissonance. No matter how many mouthpiece pops or reed slaps are heard, a sensitive strategy allows each to play both background and foreground roles. CD#1’s other notable track joins Guy, Spanish drummer Ramón López and German saxophonist Julius Gabriel as Guy’s guitar-like arpeggios and time-keeping shuffles push the reedist back to the responsive narrative each time Gabriel attempts off-center animalistic-like cries.

CD#2 proves how pure improvisation transcends instrumental conventions. Certainly the pristine tones from Swede Per Texas Johansson’s clarinet and the caustic trills from German Michael Niesemann’s oboe create the same searing connection as if they used saxophones. Similarly two tracks featuring tuba ancestor the serpent, played by France’s Michel Godard, joining Swiss percussionist Lucas Niggli and French violist Fanny Paccoud avoid any associations with early music to highlight jazz-associated sounds. Like quick-change artists who fidget when stuck in one role too long, this doesn’t prevent Paccoud from appending Roma-like smears or Godard to ornament his gusts with airy whirls at points. But when Niggli’s backbeat kicks in, joined by brass bass-like timing from Godard the result is unique, slightly atonal swing.

Godard’s low-pitched additions to a saxophone quartet of Snekkestad, Niesemann, Johansson and Gabriel, plus Guy’s showdowns with Niesemann are the highlights of CD#3. The sophisticated reed quartet moves the narrative forward incrementally with the patience of a contented feline stalking a cunning mouse, as ghost whistles, harsh split tones and pitches rappelled from skyscraper height to underground are heard and finally blended.The tubaist huffs out a gradually shifting but solid bottom on which reed timbres are stacked creating more pitch and tempo freedom. Cordial, the Guy-Niesemann meetings allow the alto saxophonist to work up to frenetic, abstract multiphonics as if he’s a musical sharpshooter. Like a veteran gunslinger however, Guy figuratively steps back to output a sprawling series of measured string cascades which eventually cushion the Niesemann’s split tones to join and complement bass chording.

CD#4 offers a nearly 19-minute staggered improvisation by a septet. Additionally the disc connects to CD#1 with three tracks featuring Fernández. If his meeting with Evans was sophisticated concordance, then his duo with Snekkestad explodes with the raw power of a prize fight. After the pianist challenges him with kinetic punches, the saxophonist’s circular breathing narrows to anorexic spews that evolves into a flat-line theme. Initially featuring the timbral sumo wrestler-like duo of Godard and Guy, “MG/BG/FP/PTJ/JG/TS/LN” evolves into an extended exposition adding viola, three saxophones and drums. Eventually a weightiness-weightlessness contrast evolves with spiccato strings and shrill horn lines balancing brass snorts and low-pitched strings.

Another glimpse of Guy’s skill linking agile improvisation and scoring, the final track shows how the established trio of Fernández, Guy and López adapts to incursions by Evans’ bugle-call-like trumpeting and the acrobatic syllable shattering of Greek vocalist Savina Yannatou. Backing both in turn, the trio blends key glissandi, string slaps and percussion accents to moor the trumpeter’s showy tongue sluices. Meantime sympathetic instrumental echoes push the vocalist’s speaking-in-tongues into an organized narrative. These are just some of Tensegrity’s selected highlights. With over-4½ hours of music, more instances of high-quality improv are preserved from these three nights in Krakow.

Tracks: CD1: AF; AF/PE; BD; JG/BG/RL; PE/TS; SY/BG CD2: PTJ/MN; MG/FP/LN I; MG/FP/LN II; Rondo for Nine Birds; SY/FP/PTJ; TS/BG CD3: BD II; PE/AF/RL/LN; MG/SY; TS/MN/PTJ/JG; TS/MN/PTJ/JG/MG; BG/MN I; BG/MN II; BD III; BD/PE CD4: TS/AF; Bach Adagio from the sonata for violin solo in g minor BWV1001; MG/BG/FP/PTJ/JG/TS/LN; LN/RL; AF/BG/RL/SY/PE

Personnel: Peter Evans (trumpet); Michel Godard (tuba, serpent); Torben Snekkestad (reed trumpet, soprano, tenor saxophones); Michael Niesemann (alto saxophone, oboe); Per Texas Johansson (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Julius Gabriel (baritone, soprano saxophones); Agustí Fernández (piano); Ben Dwyer (guitar); Maya Homburger (violin); Fanny Paccoud (viola); Barry Guy (bass); Lucas Niggli, Ramón López (percussion); Savina Yannatou (voice)

—For The New York City Jazz Record November 2016