July 13, 2017
Shades of Blue
As the Wind (2012)
A sophisticated throw back, when French improviser Toma Gouband performs, he’s often expanding on the genesis of percussion. He doesn’t climb into his figurative wayback machine to build on the developments of earlier jazzers such as Baby Dodds and Gene Krupa however. He goes further back than that. The idiophones he employs are mostly a collection of stones and rocks. Like a chemist who concocts a compound that mimics the properties of a certain nostrum though, his dexterity with sticks and stones is such that harmonies and melodies are present as well as rhythms.
Although his tools may appear primordial, curiously enough slotting them in a group context comes across more clearly in a futuristic rather than a conventional setting. While the creativity on these CDs is notable, Gouband’s lithophone contributions are more outstanding when coupled with the extraordinary timbre stretching of British soprano saxophonist Evan Parker and British-American percussionist Mark Nauseef than as part of his long-running, but traditionally constituted trio with Dutch pianist Harmen Fraanje and French bassist Brice Soniano.
On Shades of Blue, Fraanje, who often works with cellist Ernst Reijseger and vocalist and percussionist Mola Sylla, as well as talking sideman stints with the likes of reedist Michael Moore; and Soniano, who has used his skill in orchestral as well as improv settings with the likes of reedists Ben Sluys and Joachim Badenhorst, are near faultless in their playing during the disc’s seven selections. But by slotting the trio within an integrated Bill Evans-Keith Jarrett set of contemporary reductionism, Gouband’s relationship is that of a traps drummer in a standard Jazz trio.
Like cola makers who alter their formulas slightly for freshness, the Shades of Blue trio tweaks the commonplace on tracks such as “D’une deux Violettes” and “O Virgo Splendens” by having Soniano’s sometimes twanging other times buzzing string slapping set the pace from the get-go. On the first, complete with distant wordless vocalizing, the bassist’s foil is whistling and clipping stone-sourced percussion. On the second delicate story telling is suggested by a double bass buzz with Fraanje’s keyboard clips. More interestingly “The Road” reverses the concept with a wood block clave groove from Gouband plus rim shots that lead to a subsequently literal low-key release from the pianist. Unafraid to add space to their improvisations, the trio members have produced a relaxed session with Shades of Blue, but it’s very much stuck in its genre.
Like a souped-up racing car compared to a dependable roadster, As the Wind is everything the other CD isn’t, especially since it’s brimming with unexpected timbres and interactions. At the same time these nine improvisations are inventions of understatement. Parker’s distinctive saxophone cascades for instance not only set the session’s mood, but as soon as idiophone smacks clip-clop out their messages, he’s able to mimic them. With the selections unfolding in real time, very soon a rapprochement is made between the saxophonist’s alp-horn-like swells and rhythmic reverberations which resemble the clatter of mah-jong tiles. Nauseef, who has studied non-Western drum techniques and been in rock bands, makes bell-tree shakes and prayer bowl rubs fit the tunes without fissure, moving alongside Gouband’s individualistic strategy of slapping stones on drum tops. The final three tracks feature a gradually diminishing metallic meeting humanized by Parker piercing soprano saxophone swoops.
Before that, a climax of fine-tuned interaction is showcased on three centre tracks: “Like a wild-goose flies”, “Make noise enough” and “Ambitious for a Motley Coat” Parker uses dabs and smears to express the yelping theme on the first tune, surrounded by circular clanks and clatter. This strategy is extended with increased ferocity on the second as variable peeps, burbles and whistles are isolated through a combination of idiophone clanks, bell-pealing and percussive whooshes working up to buzzing ostinato expanded with the saxophonist’s motivated narrative. Finally “Ambitious for a Motley Coat” exudes quiet menace. Nearly unaccented reed timbres and accompaniment made up of undifferentiated cymbal resonation, drum skin finger slaps and wood block clunks meld with circular breathed reed tones that produce finality here, while also creating linkage to the other improvisations.
Gouband’s skills show that profound creativity can come from a space in between a rock and hard place. But it appears he needs players as adventurous as he to demonstrate this unique concept at its best.
Track Listing: As: 1. As the wind 2. Seeking the bubble reputation 3. Like a wild-goose flies 4. Make noise enough 5. Ambitious for a motley coat 6. As a weasel sucks eggs 7. Come warble, come 8. Pipes and whistles in his sound 9. Sans everything
Personnel: As: Evan Parker (soprano saxophone); Mark Nauseef (percussion) and Toma Gouband (lithophones)
Track Listing: Shades: 1. Shades of Blue 2. D’une deux Violettes 3. O Virgo Splendens 4. A Scent of Violets 5. Le Mont des Milles Blancs 6. The Road 7. La Source des Eaux Bleues
Personnel: Shades: Harmen Fraanje (piano); Brice Soniano (bass) and Toma Gouband (drums and stones)