XOL

Exit to Now and Harri Sjöström/Peter Brötzmann
Improvising Beings ib56

Like different compounds introduced to a chemical formula that when mixed can result in unexpected outcomes, so can the changing of only one contributor on a session of improvised music. A quicksilver, cerebral and collected program results when the Swiss-Italian XOL trio recorded CD1 with veteran Finnish soprano saxophonist Harri Sjöström. There’s no loss of sonic savvy on CD2, but when the trio meets up with German tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Peter Brötzmann the formula is altered to become more jagged and explosive.

XOL’s three members are up for the challenge, frequently moving between Jazz, improvised music and Rock. Trumpeter/flugehornist Guy Bettini has worked with the likes of Joelle Lèandre, and Olaf Rupp; bassist Luca Pissavini has partnered Ken Vandermark and Sabir Matten; while drummer Francesco Miccolis has played Alt-Rock and with Steve Potts. Sjöström, known for his association with Cecil Taylor, among many others, invests his two tracks with broken reed vibrations that can range from thin, stringent peeps to near-delicate contralto puffs. Immersed in tonal challenges, Bettini brings aggression to this meeting with mouthpiece kisses and growls, with upper-air blasts working onto modified almost New Thing-like energy on “xöx”. Earlier on, the four are stratified and organized differently with walking bass lines and drum smacks; on “xöx”. There, sounds practically leapfrog over one another to reach descriptive crescendos. Throughout both tunes though, the brass player and saxophonist engage in parries and thrusts, with Bettini’s slurring grace notes decorated by Sjöström, or in reverse: Bettini creating a muted obbligato to intersect with the saxophonist, as Sjöström moves his sound investigations from root tones out to their furthest extensions. All the while, the saxophonist maintains an unhurried narrative. After Pissavini has demonstrated his bow prowess with staccato and spiccato thrusts, he joins with Miccolis’s drum blasts to presage a moderato finale from all.

Moderato in any language is not a word associated with Brötzmann and when he meets XOL in the same Berlin space almost exactly a year later, his pent up ferocity is present from the first note he sounds. There are mellow respites, as in the middle section of “oxolo”, which brings out equivalent long tones from Bettini and battering pulses from Miccolis. But over the course of five linked improvisations the idea is more macho et macho than mano a mano. Moving from skyscraper high reed whistles to chalumeau smears, the reedist’s methodology can be described as bulldozing straight ahead. Countering this reed battering ram on “loxol”, the XOL members show enough moxie to challenge Brötzmann’s nearly unvarying exposition with brass melisma and clattering rim shots.

By the final two tracks the four have worked out a relationship that’s almost like a Dixieland band with hot breaks from the trumpeter and the saxophonist surrounded by tub-like thumping from the drummer and slap bass lines. Even after Brötzmann explodes into multiphonics, Bettini tongue flutters and Miccolis repeatedly clashes his cymbals, the band builds to a tension-filled climax, and then dissipates the heaviness with moderated swoops as the sound is abruptly cut off.

XOL’s experiment with Sjöström produces one sort of compound; the concoction with Brötzmann creatures a far different mixture. Each is palatable. And in this dual pack you get to sample both.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. öxö 2. xöx CD2: 1. xolomolo 2. oxolo 3. loxol 4. xolox 5. moxoto

Personnel: Guy Bettini (trumpet and flugelhorn); Harri Sjöström (soprano saxophone) [CD1] or Peter Brötzmann (tenor saxophone, clarinet) [CD2]; Luca Pissavini (bass) and Francesco Miccolis (drums)