Things to Sounds

3 [42:02] Live
WideEar Recordings WER027

Christophe Erb/Jim Baker/Frank Rosaly

…don’t buy him a parrot…

hatOLOGY 728

Quietly, but not unobtrusively Swiss improvisers are making their presence felt on the international stage. While neither of these trio CDs, offers anything particularly related to the country’s cantons or mountains, they do point out different ways to make musical opportunities. A known quantity at this point, Lucerne-based tenor saxophonist/bass clarinetist Christophe Erb has for the past few years not only recorded with locals, but set up an ongoing relationship with Chicago players, including on this release, now Netherlands-resident, drummer Frank Rosaly, who has been part of the Rempis Percussion Quartet; and quirky pianist Jim Baker, who has worked with everyone from Fred Anderson to Ken Vandermark. Together the three explore open-ended improvisations whose eccentric titles are as far removed from the bland reputation of Switzerland as can be imagined.

Recorded at the Limmitationes Festival in 2016, almost exactly two years after the Chicago date, 3 [42:02] Live, the Zürich-based Things to Sounds trio probes the depths of a single improvisation, while pointing out the advantages of sticking closer to home. Together for a decade, the band’s third CD in that time shows off the skills of alto saxophonist Tobias Meier who leads the Im Wald band, drummer David Meier, who has been part of Day & Taxi and pianist/synthesizer player Yves Theiler, who leads his own trio and has worked with Gerry Hemingway.

Owing much to Baker’s ability to insert clues from the entire (Free) Jazz tradition, with particular fealty to Cecil Taylor and McCoy Tyner, the CD’s four track sometimes explode with the dynamics of Taylor’ work with Sunny Murray and Jimmy Lyons or move into the modal-mesmerizing territory favored by Tyner and John Coltrane. At the same a track like “(parrot, figuring...)” also shows that so-called avant-gardist Baker can bring real emotion to his output with clever chording, creating tangential asides in a solo, but never cutting himself off from its essence. It’s also here that warm flutter-tonguing arises from Erb, leading to (Stan) Getzian reed echoes. Rosaly contributes to the forming of this triple-layer sonic cake by spreading his ruffs, rattles and crash around the batter where it need a power – or is it powder – fillip.

At points snarky and slurry playing both his reeds, Erb’s rotating spews are sometimes needed to restrain the pianist from blasting off into the stratosphere without a lifeline to the Mothership. Relaxed and restrained most of the rime, Rosaly can turn a series of woody clip clops and nerve beats into a tandem exploration of swing chording alongside Baker on “…It isn't hard to follow a man who carries a bird cage with him wherever he goes...", following a section where drum-top rubs and focused patterns fade into a thematic extension of the saxophonist’s echoing tongue slaps and basso puffs. The longest track, “for canaries, career opportunities in the mining industry” expresses the trio’s strategies in miniature. With Baker’s processional comping backing Erb’s moderato blowing, it appears as if both are going to detour into American Songbook material. Soon though the narrative embraces atonality, breaking reed textures into hardened shards and miasmatic note munching, with the drummer’s pops and cracks almost in counterpoint, cosseted in a flow of nearly endless keyboard patterns.

More connected to narratives, but no more conventional, Things to Sounds’ members’ communication is like an attempt to replicate musically the variable and vectors of the topological map of the earth. With timbres frenetic and quiet, speedy and slow moving, it’s as if geographical points like mountain tops, deserts, jungle and oceans are glimpsed, defined and then the band moves on. Cymbal clanks and connective paradiddles join with yearning alto saxophone action and resonating percussion from plucked piano strings to set up the journey. But soon enough an explosion of accelerating reed honks, repetative and darkening keyboard tremolo and metal screeches from the drummer move the three into Energy Music territory with the tones not only melting into one another but made more abstract by synthesizer wave forms mixed with reed spetrofluctuation, moved along by drum pops to a middle space where chugging piano riffs and high reed pitches coexist. Pealing saxophones bites, piano key-clipping and thumping drums eventually move the three into the closest approximation of contemporary jazz on the CD, but even that trope eventually dissolves. Abandoning the conventional for more tonal exploration, Tobias Meier smears his alto saxophone runs into the tenor range, while Yves Theiler’s pedal pushing provides an equivalent dark accompaniment. With David Meier’s pulsing helping to extend the narrative still further, the trio reaches a finale of high-frequency, percussive vibrations, which fully defines the band.

More than a place to ski or deposit money into unnumbered bank accounts, Switzerland has developed a coterie of musicians whose experimentations soar past Jazz conventions. These CDs demonstrate two paths to that goal.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: parrot: 1. ...don't buy him a parrot... 2. (parrot, figuring...) 3. for canaries, career opportunities in the mining industry 4. …It isn't hard to follow a man who carries a bird cage with him wherever he goes...

Personnel: parrot: Christoph Erb (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Jim Baker (piano) and Frank Rosaly (drums)

Track Listing: Live: 1. 3[42.04] Live

Personnel: Live: Tobias Meier (alto saxophone); Yves Theiler (piano and synthesizer) and David Meier (drums)