Tour de Bras TDB 9017 CD

By Ken Waxman

Like a carefully coordinated many nation NATO exercise, but anything but bellicose, the distinctive soundscape that is Drought is the result of a long-time alliance among tubaist Carl Ludwig Hübsch and prepared piano stylist Phillip Zoubek, both from Köln, and Montreal-based Pierre-Yves Martel, who improvises on the soprano viola da gamba. Dating from the 15tn century and with both viola and cello tone attributes, that instrument, played in tandem with the others’ exposes a rugged post-modern concept on the seven selections here, which the trio presented last year in Toronto.

With the sophistication of undercover agents adopting new identities, each player functions in unexpected ways. Zoubek spends most of his time plucking and stopping the piano’s internal string set plus deadening the key action to produce a clavichord-like exposition with marimba-like reverberations. On pieces such as “Darth”, Martel meets the contrapuntal piano challenge with a series of staccato buzzes. Rounding the duo’s abrasive thrusts into connectivity, Hübsch produces a breathy continuum so fluid and watery that it appears distant and segmented, nothing like the brass beast’s usual rhino-like snores.

As the nearly opaque narratives unroll, individual contributions are still clearly heard. On Guts for instance the interruptions resemble – or are – ping-pong balls bouncing on inner piano strings. Later the unusually delicate harmonies created from juddering brass reverb and high-pitched tremolo strokes from Martel, is a highlight of “Civilisation”. Like a computer manufacturer able to reproduce any desk top function on a hand-held device, the 15½ minutes of Conditions miniaturizes themes in solo, duo or trio forms. Comparison of string vibrations from Martel and Zoubek expose subtle differences; while downward whistling tones are expressed individually by Hübsch’s measured breaths and Martel’s pinched strings. Finally the swelling cacophony of twitters, plucks, twangs and judders settles into a reductionist coda where tick-tock piano chords are perfectly segmented by abrasive metal scratches from the outside of Hübsch’s horn.

Not as dry as titled, there’s also no musical drought when it comes to dynamic interaction on this session.

-For The Whole Note February 2017