Sesteotto Internationale

Aural Vetrtigo
Amirani Records AMRN 049

What’s done for commercial consideration in so-called Euro-pudding films, come about by happenstance from international minded European improvisers’ CDs. And the different in intent is one reason the latter is more satisfying than the former. Searching for funds from nationalist governments, film producers try to cast as many actors and technicians as they can from various countries in order to secure subsidies from the widest possible sources. Such a film is usually labeled a Euro-pudding. Since money for improvisers is much less, edging up from non-existent, musical coordinates are made for artistic reasons.

So it’s mere happenstance that when Berlin-based Finnish saxophonist Harri Sjöström organized Sesteotto International at least four countries are represented. Besides Sjöström accordionist Veli Kujala is also Finnish; violinist Allison Blunt is British-Kenyan; fellow soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo is Italian; while turntablist Ignaz Schick and pianist Achim Kaufmann are German. Perusing the instrumentation while listening to “Aural” and “Vetrtigo” the improvisations that make up this 77 minute set, you’ll note the sextet’s individuality. Rather than being brought together showcasing nationalist traditions, the sounds evolve by circumventing timbral expectations. If this was a film it would be one where to the comedian plays a dramatic role and the expected hero is a villain. Leisurely and microtonal the narratives are balanced through tension engendered when each pair of players with similar tones act in opposition. Throughout it’s impossible to tell which solo is from Sjöström and which from Mimmo; Kaufmann’s comping is up against Kujala’s tremolos; while Blunt’s spiccato thrusts and Schick’s crackling static advance juddering interruptions. Diluting the head of “Schick”, that when advanced by one saxophonist resembles a Steve Lacy line tinged with piano romanticism, stropping fiddle cuts and turntable crackles introduce combative rhythms. Very quickly the pulsations develop along parallel lines like competitive swimmers in an Olympic pool. Brooding reed snarls add to the unease, with only the piano line ambulatory. Kaufman’s focused narrative which includes key clips and soundboard clusters safeguard the theme even after one saxophonist comes up with a contrasting line half-way through. With contrapuntal expression causing the pressure to intensify via reed guffaws, sucks and burbles, only the intercession of quacking according pressure and harp-like piano glissandi preserves the mood.

More of the same at greater length, “Vertigo” manages to stay upright and connected, but its neo-romantic sequences from Blunt are exploded with percussive bell-ringing and buzzing from Schick’s sound archives that similarly threaten to dissolve into colorful discord. Aided by Kujala’s bellows-pushed interventions, Kaufmann maintain a chromatic status quo> The first of several false climaxes, one-third of the way through surprises with the realization that expected and identifiable instrumental tones have so far been few and far between, Most of the rest of the track is concerned with the efforts each player takes to break her or his part down to microtones, then using tropes as unique as crying split tones and keyboard pitter patter, stop the theme from dissolving by patching it with buzzing turntable crackles and a solid accordion vamp. When it comes, the finale is downplayed, since it confirms that individual voices are still prominent among the story-telling swirling mass.

Akin to an experimental art house program rather than any blockbuster – Euro-pudding or not – Aural Vetrtigo is challenging fare. As long as the expected in tone, narrative and color isn’t missed and the listener is willing to accept the CD on its own terms without conventional references, distinctive or maybe even pleasant results can be expected.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Aural 2. Vertigo

Personnel: Harri Sjöström (soprano, sopranino saxophones); Gianni Mimmo (soprano saxophone); Achim Kaufmann (piano); Veli Kujala (quarter tone accordion); Alison Blunt (violin) and Ignaz Schick (turntables)