George Lewis & Splitter Orchestra

Creative Construction Set™
Mikroton Recordings CD 50

By Ken Waxman

While it may appear like sifting alphabet soup for insight, American trombonist George Lewis’ three-part Creative Construction Set™ (CCS) for Berlin’s Splitter Orchestra (SO) is an organic recasting of ideas first advanced by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM)’s sextet the Creative Construction Company (CCC). Abbreviations aside, the essence of this performance is how this mixture of improvisation and composition can be expressed flexibly by two dozen players.

Like breakthrough pharmaceutical compounds updated and amended over time, this CCC reconstitution removes lingering solo ostentation with group assemblages. Brief interjections from reeds, brass, strings, percussion, keyboards and electronic processing augment the efforts. With each track layered and blended in a related design, deciding on the best is like choosing the cutest of a set of triplets. Each has certain outstanding features. “Creative Construction Set™#3” for instance unfolds like a nature adventure novel with disassociated horn timbres and dial-twisted static fighting for supremacy and further scene setting resulting from aviary cries and animal-like grunts. Melodic duets for clavinet and strings and later honking saxophones verses percussion, lead to a vociferous crescendo with a single guitar pluck signaling the gentling downturn. Moving from the jungle book to a sci-fi yarn, “Creative Construction Set™#2” is like preserving the distant crackles and whistles of signals from a distant planets, but from one on which tuba blasting and cello-string twangs emanate from the inhabitants. “Creative Construction Set™#1” – oddly performed at the mid-point – offers the most contrast, with the narrative following hairpin turns that mate short-wave radio-like tuning, buzzing, piano glissandi, brass plunger ejaculations, yelping horn snores, string slashes and wood-and metal clicks, with turntable sourced human voice and animal cries that weave in-and-out of aural focus. Attaining a crescendo of what initially sounds like mere clamor finally reaches polyphonic connection without negating individual contributions.

Like a series of photographs collected in book form but without a connecting narration, the key to appreciation of this CD hinges on noting how well, singly or as a group, the players interpret Lewis’ outlines. Cohesion is secondary to creativity. But this augurs well for future performances of this segmented epic.

-For MusicWorks #129 Winter 2017