March 1, 2017
Leo Records CD LR 763
Barefoot Records BFRECO 45 CD
Like Paris in its 1920s literary heyday for authors, 21st Century Berlin continues to attract improvising musicians from all over. One of them is Ribe, Denmark-born double bassist Adam Pultz Melbye, involved with many ensembles in the German capital. His adaptation to the scene is showcased on these CDs, which also demonstrate how that by altering one part of a structure, like adding strands of DNA to a template, the result barely resembles the initial product. Coordinated among the bassist, Dane Christian Windfeld, playing snare drum and objects and American-in-Berlin, Chris Heenan on contrabass clarinet, Flamingo is a leisurely microtonal stroll. Yet with almost the same instrumental line-up – Melbye, veteran Berlin bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall and German drummer Christian Lillinger –Rotozaza hews closer to Free Jazz, markedly aided by the contributions of Köln-based guitarist Nicola L. Hein.
Nonetheless ascribing the luculent performances to the guitarist, who has also worked with the likes of Matthias Müller and Axel Dörner, is like saying George Harrison was the Beatles’ spark plug. Kinetic incantations also characterize the playing of Mahall, who has worked up a reputation alongside everyone from Alexander von Schlippenbach and Dörner to Lillinger, one of Germany’s most in-demand percussionists, whose co-op trio was originally called Hyperactive Kid. That’s hyperactive not hyperbolic though. Throughout the CD’s seven tracks, the drummer avoids excessive volume and technical excess to slap, shuffle and sting beats and textures.
A piece such as “Engel Mit Schutzanzügen” maintains a meditative stance despite irregular percussion jangles, strident reed vibrations and gyrating guitar licks. Glued linearly by bowed double bass continuum, Mahall’s magpie-like chattering and Hein’s string variants provide decorative variations until their timbres cohesively dovetail alongside Melbye’s. In another display Lillinger functions like the circus percussionist building up excitement for an aerial act. His constant beat is a reminder of the safety net available for the aerial tumblers consisting of the clarinetist quickening his shrilling from mid-range to altissimo split tones and the guitarist knob twirling and distorting twangs into ever more strident turbulence. Working from the equivalent of scene-setting dress rehearsals to full out musical theatre-like pageants, the four function as if they’re a close knit method acting company, using techniques ranging from string snaps and downshifting drum beats to yapping reed tremolo and rhythmic distortion to highlight their collective ability to play any parts. Taking on the dual comedy and tragedy masks, the members of Rotozaza can also emphasize acoustic fellowship and electronic expansion. Skillfully the unfolding of a piece can be a detail-obsessed as examining the qualities of a single pearl or as comprehensive as using different techniques from each instrument to display the profound colors, weight and firmness of every jewel in a necklace.
The other CD is more like viewing an unset stone in its natural brilliance. With Windfeld, Melbye and Heenan committed to reductionist timbres, the interface is rougher and more linear. But the significance is how the trio’s tonal buffering brings out multiple facets of the five tunes. As invested in silence as well as sound, one of the trio’s timbral strategies involves the clarinet pushing out a near horizontal line until the bassist’s and the drummer’s contrapuntal buzzing and clanking augment the tone colors as far as the finale.
Notwithstanding the potential limitation of low-key interaction, the three constantly move past insectile rubs and flourishes. “Attention Filter” for instance affiliates string scrubs and drum clatters into an undercurrent of crackles beneath a heart beat approximation captured by a monitor. “Stepchild of Living languages” is Heenan at his most affecting with consistent basso tones and whistling snarls organized to challenge harsh spiccato bass lines, as the drummer uses so-called objects to create outer space-like electronic sprawl. These pseudo-electronic rustles and crimps come into play on the extended “Horizonal Fold” (sic). Expressive in both the coloratura and chalumeau registers, the reedist varies his tongue flutters and bites to sync with Melbye’s string rolling and reverberating slaps in articulating a tall tale of creative low pitches.
As long as CDs such as these appear, with Melbye and company in residence, Berlin’s current reputation as a centre of musical creativity will be maintained.
Track Listing: Zero: 1. Anwendung Herzstärkender Mitte 2. Der Hammer Als Hammer 3. Engel Mit Schutzanzügen 4. Körper Aus Vakuum Masse 5. Innere Minuslandschaften 6. Zeichen Sind Wir, Deutungslos... 7. Gestell
Personnel: Zero: Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet); Nicola L. Hein (guitar); Adam Pultz Melbye (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums
Track Listing: Flamingo: 1. Life is nothing but Trading Smells 2. Stepchild of Living languages 3. The Void Beneath 4. 4. Horizonal Fold 5. Attention Filter
Personnel: Flamingo: Chris Heenan (contrabass clarinet); Adam Pultz Melbye (bass) and
Christian Windfeld (snare drum and objects)