Quelque Chose Au Milieu
Circum-Disc LX0008/Becoq Records 25

Jan Klare/Julius Gabriel

About Angels and Animals

Umland Records 05

Raymond MacDonald/Graeme Wilson

Cast of Thousands

Creative Sources CS 353 CD

Should a future Jazz historian be looking for a perception that would disassociate 21st Century improvised music from its 20th Century antecedent, communion has replaced challenge as an overriding musical motif. Like cars with giant fins, smoke-filled offices and steno pools, the idea of a cutting contest where one instrumentalist proved his skill by brutally defeating others in symbolic man-to-man combat is a relic of the past. Take these two-saxophone meetings for instance, Unlike the fabled Hawk vs. Prez or Jug vs Stitt reed battles, the players here are intent on advancing ingenious interaction while maintaining their own identities. The fashion of humiliated losers and triumphant winners is as outdated as spats. With the discs clearly slotted into the experimental expanse, each player works to expand the limits of his instrument to its utmost,

For instance on the brief About Angels and Animals mini LP, with two Germans, veteran alto and bass saxophone Jan Klare, known for his leadership of The Dorf ensemble; and younger tenor and baritone saxophonist Julius Gabriel , who has played in Barry Guy’s Blue Shroud Band and the Dorf. Coming across most of time like a well-drilled unit – say half of Rova or the World Saxophone Quartet – the two use the tones from their saxophones to create notable contrasts in pitch, tempo and tone. By “Psilot” the result propels cyclonic timbres to wrap around one another like tendrils as flutter tongued extension multiply the tones. Imagine the meeting as air-inflated ring-around-the-rosie, here and on the other five tracks. Sometimes the duo work on a contrapuntal mirror of clear alto saxophone trills at one elevation and deeper pulls with oxen-like strength from the baritone as on “Iridop,” with the opposite strategy expressed on “Calamo”, as higher-pitched saxes bland like two halves of a bagpipe chanter, leading to gentling harmonies. Eventually the final tracks lead to a climax that confirms this polyphonic blending. Rumbles and squeals are melded into gorgeous harmonies which propel the themes forward, then satisfy the need for closure.

With their nine-track CD stretched over 61 minutes, Glasgow-based alto saxophonist Raymond MacDonald and Edinburgh-based tenor saxophonist Graeme Wilson have more space in which to try out varied strategies. Swelling modulations and tensile vibrations are available from the saxophonists, both of whom are also affiliated with the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra and are noted academics, but balladic investigations aren’t neglected either. Like a domesticated pooch facing an untrained canine which the first wins over with calmness, “Thawing Out” for example starts with a combination of Wilson’s tongue slaps and MacDonald’s melodic exposition, with the tenor saxophonist’s in-between note squeals smoothed and harmonized with the alto saxophone line by the end. In another instance on “Slinking” sharpened altissimo cries and distracted air blowing into the body tune from individual horn players evolve into an alto saxophone aside that threatens to become “God Bless the Child”, as the tenor saxophonist splatters timbres so that a ghostly echo of “Wade in the Water” is advanced. Evan as episodes of circular breathing and constricted reed yelps follow as they move up the scale, the piece retains its harmonies, never becoming completely free. It’s as if it’s caterpillar and butterfly simultaneously. Other interjections range from reed stutters to searing snorts to improvising a half-step apart abound within the partnership. However for comic relief, “Bongo Billy Up a Tree” is another stand out, adding honks, pops and reverb to the narrative for a joyous upsurge, as the tonal focus remains. Distinctively and despite its title, “Romance Is Not Dead” is the CD’s most atonal and microtonal selection, where what could be whines from an unscrewed mouthpiece and reed snorts build up into a multi-hued theme of pitch-sliding variables. Overlapping sounds cement the interaction, which vibrates into silence, while not neglecting controlled movement.

The movement on Quelque Chose Au Milieu is literally present, since French alto saxophonists Sakina Abdou and Jean-Baptiste Rubin and recordist Jean-Luc Guionnet created these improvisations at site-specific spots in Lille. Members of larger ensembles such as La Pieuvre, the two saxophonists prove their mettle by integrating or contrasting their reed textures alongside the textures captured with field recordings. “Si B” for instance, which was recorded in a church, reaches for a higher power as high-pitched animalistic cries and split tone are layered into a drone that takes up all parts of the sonic space. Elsewhere the din of moving automobiles serves as backdrop to the timbral crescendo which the duo accedes to on “Tenues” which was literally recorded on an auto route. Echoing voices, swimming splashes and foot shuffling provides the backdrop to chanter-like snarls and snorts, flat-line drones and other unusual reed techniques. A final crescendo of massed tones and drones is enhanced by the locations’ spectral properties. Other places, like on the two variants on “C3/C5/” , both in church and on the marketplace, Morse Code-like bites and triple tonguing and false register wanderings produces blow-backs as reflective of the area’s rugged construction material as shaped saxophone timbres.

Overcoming distractions that range from children’ voices to water splashing with multiphonic reed tones, Abdou and Rubin build the market-recorded variant on “C3/C5” into alternating sequences of noise and silences, as their intertwined contributions fade in and out of focus like a scene glimpsed through a window pane on a rainy day. Rather than masking the picture the saxophonists’ range of red extensions enhanced it, so that the track becomes a spectacular illustration of mixing found and instrument-produced sounds into a descriptive aural picture.

Each disc could be said to follow a similar path.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: About: 1. Cladoxyl 2. Psilot 3. Iridop 4. Calamo 5. Maratti 6. Sphen 7. Polypodi

Personnel: About: Jan Klare (alto and bass saxophones) and Julius Gabriel (tenor and baritone saxophones)

Track Listing: Cast: 1. Montelimar 2. The Bucket of Kimchi 3. Thawing Out 4. Slap and Wobble 5. Crow and Skylark 6. Bongo Billy Up a Tree 7. On the Roof and Down the Stairs 8. Slinking 9. Romance Is Not Dead

Personnel: Cast: Raymond MacDonald (alto saxophone) and Graeme Wilson (tenor saxophone)

Track Listing: Quelque: 1. Si B (Eglise) 2. Zoom (Marche) 3. DiabeTiques S'Abstenir (Marche) 4. Tenues (Autoroute) 5. Minuscule (Eglise/Hotel De Ville) 6. Si B (Hotel De Ville) 7. 7. C3/C5/ (Eglise) 8. Attaques Inverseés (Autoroute) 9. Si B (Marche) 10. Abto 3am (Autoroute) 11. Grand Bassin/Attaques Inversees (Piscine) 12. C3/C5/ (Marche)

Personnel: Quelque: Sakina Abdou and Jean-Baptiste Rubin (alto saxophones) and Jean-Luc Guionnet (sound mixing)