Liudas Mockūnas/Arnas Mikalkėnas/Håkon Berre

Barefoot Records BFREC 053 CD


Live at Divadlo 29

NotTwo MW 915-2

Ever since European Jazz musicians developed their own adaptations of Free Music a generation or so ago, when it come to smaller states, it’s usually one or two players who become the equivalent of the Lone Gunslinger(s) holding the musical fort against the onslaught of more conventional sounds. Like Yul Brynner’s fast gun character in The Magnificent Seven, these innovators often recruit like-minded associates from elsewhere, which is how these two fine sets by Lithuanian saxophonist Liudas Mockūnas came about.

The multi-reedist, who has worked with musicians as different as guitarist Marc Ducret, and percussionist Jeff Arnal, follows that strategy here. Live at Divadlo 29, recorded in Pardubice, Czech Republic is a five-part creation matching Mockūnas’ three horns with Polish acoustic bass guitarist Rafal Mazur and Swedish percussionist Raymond Strid. A more permanent and recent trio from a Vilnius Jazz Festival appearance features percussionist Håkon Berre, who is Norwegian, but lives in Copenhagen and pianist Arnas Mikalkėnas, who like one of Brynner’s recruits in the film who shares history with him, may be simpatico with the reedist’s concept since he too is Lithuanian.

Following a prologue that formulates than deconstructs the narrative via saxophone honks and slurs, spiky guitar-like runs from Mazur and exquisitely gauged tick-tock drum accents Strid, the trio operate like a work crew turning an architect’s drawing into reality on “Act I” and “Act II”. As the drummer’s curiously flattish smacks blend with Mazur’s now low-pitched rasgueado fills to create continuum, Mockūnas switches to bass saxophone from tenor saxophone to build flutter-tongued theme variations from routine call-and-response to a dramatic cornucopia of dissected growls and snarls. Reaching a crescendo of Mockūnas’ a cappella soprano saxophone double-tonguing, the push-pull motion intensified by the bassist and drummer reaches a durable groove that’s capricious as well as satisfying.

Different but the same, like a refreshed version of a computer program, what’s plunged into on Plunged is the exploration of seven themes by three musicians who frequently work together. Also like computer updates which offer new features for a program, from the beginning, Mikalkėnas’ piano pacing changes the trio dynamic. With a lyrical and romantic bent, his intricate chording theatricality provides the frippery that decorates some of Mockūnas’ more austere themes. Forthright in his backing, Berre likewise leaves exposition elaborations to the saxophonist. On “Study No.2” for instanced sparkling reed arabesques colorfully climax in an altissimo shrill, as the other players lay back.

Possibly the most detailed sonic architecture following this approach is “Study No.3” and the subsequent and appropriately named “Stress”. The former is a semi-Blues that ignites into New Thing-like sound shards. As it evolves chromatically with Mockūnas’ coal mine-deep bass saxophone texture constantly digging downwards, the contrapuntal contrast is with the pianist’s intense high frequency keyboard pumps. Meanwhile drum accents are timed perfectly to set off the narration. Resounding like gunfire, Berre’s clangorous introduction to “Stress” shakes an equivalent note explosion from the saxophonist, who sounds as if his tongue is a nail pressing through a reed with the thickness of a wood block. Meanwhile Mikalkėnas’ pedals percussively jab the music enough to eventually define Energy Music.

With other selections varying from sunny to stormy, the extended “Pelš”, which closes out the CD, gives more scope to the trio’s improvisational strategies which evolve in a parallel fashion. Pressurized piano chording, rugged percussion slaps and slurred sax tones are exhibited then melded into Freebop-like protoplasm, as splashy whooshes and slithery tones are split into tone atoms then reconstitute into an interface that appear inwards, outwards, sibilant and solid at the same time. At its zenith, Plunged, the work of this trio and Mockūnas’ output in general confronts music power and music smarts and fastens an original signature on the results.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1, Prologue (expositio) 2. 2. Act I (peripety) 3. Act II (climax) 4. Act III (entr’acte) 5. Finale

Personnel: Live: Liudas Mockūnas (soprano, tenor and bass saxophones); Rafał Mazur (acoustic bass guitar) and Raymond Strid (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Plunged: 1. Study No.1 2. Study No.2 3. Study No.3 4. Stress 5. Study No.4 6. Study No.5 7. Pelš

Personnel: Plunged: Liudas Mockūnas (soprano, tenor and bass saxophones and clarinet); Arnas Mikalkėnas (piano) and Haakon Berre (drums)