Soft Eyes
Improvising Beings ib 48

Nicola L. Hein & Paul Lytton

Nahezu Nicht

Creative Sources CS 326 CD

Although humanity’s most in-demand and pervasive instruments the popularity of drums and guitars – or their equivalents – is so universal that there’s no sanctioned method to play either. This is especially true with Free Music where adventurous players have approached both as they were unexplored plants and they space scientists.

That’s the situation involved with these guitar-drum duos. One featuring French improvisers – percussionist Didier Lasserre and guitar and harmonica stylist Raymond Boni – is completely acoustic. The other matches British drummer Paul Lytton and German guitarist Nicola L. Hein whose employment of electronics and objects creates a set of tracks that owe as much to programming as human strokes. Although identically constituted, the effect is rather like trying to compare a farm wagon and a sports car for the simple reason that each has four wheels and both are used for transpiration.

Still, another point of concordance here is that each session features teamwork between an older improviser and a younger one. On Nahezu Nicht the veteran is Aachen-based Lytton, whose affiliations with the music go back to the mid-1960s in bands with Evan Parker among many others. Düsseldorf native Hein, who prepares his instrument with screws, magnets, paper and the like, is a sound designer and has worked with comparable sonic searchers like Axel Dörner. Meanwhile on Soft Eyes, it’s Bordeaux-based Lasserre who is the junior partner; but one who has spent years working with players like Benjamin Duboc. Almost exactly the same age as Lytton, in the past Toulon-born Boni has often partnered versatile iconoclasts like Daunik Lazro.

With a utilitarian set up that would have been expected from Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan in the 1960s rather than jazzers, the French players initially have to work to make sure the finger-picking, dour harmonica blasts and grounded drum pops don’t lapse into folksiness. By the second track though they’re established that their aim is abstraction not agit-prop and soon they excel in creating the impossible: sounding intricate atonal patterns while keeping their narratives as centered as a dart in bull’s eye centre of a target. Along the way Lasserre lets his bass drum whaps and cymbal resonation set the pace. Boni’s studied rasgueado and unaffiliated tremolo peeps sometimes appear to be heading in opposite directions like two dogs straining at one leash, and it’s the drummer’s multi-limb finesse that bring these impulses to heel. At the same time Boni’s mouth organ timbral mastication relate more closely to Albert Ayler’s saxophone sprawls than anything whispered by Toots Thielemans’ pleasant blowing. He demonstrates this on “Tard Dans La Vie “, sliding from Jew’s harp-like twang to basso shudders within the piece. At the same time the most notable achievement of Soft Eyes is that the two manage to suggest a world of experimental timbres without ever raising their tone and pitch above moderato.

Hein and Lytton wouldn’t be confused for Jimmy Page and John Bonham either. But over the course of six tracks the suggestion of rugged objects being prodded and abrasive timbres being scratched from unknown gadgets share space with more intricate instrumental patterns. The guitarist for instance doesn’t limit himself to popping flat picking or twanging strums. but instead uses finger tips and heels of hands to resonate sharper tones from the strings on the guitar neck. Besides bell-like resonation that emanate from Lytton’s kit, an undercurrent of mechanized drone can also be heard, adding a distinctive microtonal connectivity throughout.

Like their French counterparts, likely recorded in real time, the British-German duo. who appear to have created their tracks under similar circumstances, become progressively more atonally fearless as the CD unfolds. Several tracks begin with a raucous sound that could be a door cranking openi and that sets up a round robin game of pointed timbres passing between the two. By “IV” distant outer-space-like whistles are ruffling the flat-line interaction to the extent that guitar or percussion textures splash, smack and rub against an intractable force numerous times to loosen it enough to showcase a multi-limb, multi-stroke solo from the drummer. With electronic drones constantly challenged by string hammering or individual sitar-like buzzes on Hein’s “VI”, the disparate jigsaw-puzzle-like parts join together to create a revealing picture. Plus the final tr01emolo tones relates back to similar ones which began “I”.

Both duos suggest individual and interesting strategies that can be used sparingly to create free sounds with only guitar and percussion. Such is humanity’s resourcefulness that they are plenty of original textures to be heard on both discs as well.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Soft: 1. Soft Eyes 2. And Mysteries 3. To Sweeten Our Souls 4. No Wonder If You Think 6. Tard Dans La Vie 7. I Am Singing One Of These Songs 8. Soubresauts 9. Nature Boy 10. Caduta.

Personnel: Soft: Raymond Boni (acoustic guitar and harmonica) and Didier Lasserre (percussion)

Track Listing: Nahezu: 1. I 2. II 3. III 4. IV 5. V 6. VI

Personnel: Nahezu: Nicola L. Hein (guitar and objects) and Paul Lytton (table drums and electronics)