Bay's Leap

Swans over Dorking
City Stream CTYCD00108

George Cremaschi/Irene Kepl/Petra Vrba


Another Timbre at104

North of North

The Moment In and Of Itself

Immediata IMM006

One of the few – or perhaps the only – musical genre named for the location in which it’s performed, chamber music has always carried the cachet of refinement. Sounds created by a few, preferably a trio, of stringed instruments, could never possess the noise and vulgarity that was even present in orchestral works. This sobriquet has continued into modern times, and used to describe more than so-called serious music. Chamber Jazz for instance is thought of as small group sounds performed at low volumes.

Limited to the requisite number of players – three – preferred for the genre, each of the groups here could be said to play chamber music. But the creations are actually Chamber-Improvisation, so that and the appeal of each CD depends on the amount of freedom offered the players. Diverse paths are followed as well. Resonators, featuring Austrian violinist Irene Kepl, American bassist George Cremaschi and Czech trumpeter/clarinetist Petra Vrba, is most concerned with how the spatial properties of the stone structures in which they recorded affect the sounds and all use electronics to intensify the contrast and challenges. All are primarily involved in the Jazz-experimental music scenes. Swans over Dorking aims for the elusive Jazz-so-called Classical music blend, which is as elusive but as sought after for decades as the Loch Ness Monster in other circumstances. All-British, the members of Bay's Leap are clarinetist Noel Taylor a member of the London Improvisers Orchestra, who has played with the likes of Steve Beresford and Terry Day, and two associates most closely attuned to the notated concert world, cellist James Barralet, who often played with symphony orchestras and pianist Clare Simmonds, part of a so-called serious music chamber trio. North of North, the trio of Australians on The Moment In and Of Itself include two identified with the exploratory music field: pianist Anthony Pateras and violinist Erkki Veltheim and one trumpeter Scott Tinkler, known for his Jazz work as well as Free Music, playing in the Australian Art Orchestra in which Veltheim also participates.

On “Affective Labor” Cremaschi and Kepl initially pulsate small, wriggling tones from their instruments, which when coupled with architectural reverberations and electronic processes gradually swell to a crescendo of double bass thumps and expressive violin glissandi relaxing into whistling intersection when Vrba joins. While a similar whooshing and percussiveness marks the CD’s final minutes, the apogee of the trio’s partnership is revealed on “Soma” and “Locus Resonatus” which uses the edifice’s Spartan spaces to their best advantage(s), Well balanced with shaking fiddle tones sliding with jet plane-like precision into abstract air breaths, the former track reaches a climax when thin pitches brush up against fattened double bass tones. A formal sounding clarinet tone snakes through the beginning of “Locus Resonatus”, further amplified by spiccato violin vamps. Amalgamated, the narrative moves forward, into a solid sound mass which jello-like shimmers and sways even as it stays chromatic. Although every timbre can be heard, it’s nearly impossible to attribute any one to instrument, processing or architectural reverb. Qualifying the concept’s attainment, the piece fades with only sharpened trumpet tones remaining until the dissolve.

Nominally and perhaps unintentionally more tasteful than the other discs, Bay's Leap appears to owe this perception to the fact that Barralet and Simmonds, who are primarily so-called classical musicians base their work on European concert music tropes, rather than Free Improv. This combination of mid-range clarinet tones, plus pleasant plinks from the piano and plucks from the cellist on themes such as “Shepherd’s Quadrille” only barely skirt pretty background sounds. Besides what seems like excessive politeness, there’s often not a note out of place in the narrative and an avoidance of pitch or rhythmic excesses. A variation of this appears on the title tune, as a secondary exposition upturns into string glissandi and strident reed peeps from the clarinetist’s moderato contralto tone and equivalent cello plucks. Meanwhile keyboard slides speedily modulate the tune back to almost pure melody. When a subsequent sequence finds Taylor sounding more dissonance and Barralet trying for swift spiccato squeezes, the piano accompaniment remains more concerned with artistry than adventure. All and all, the most noteworthy tracks are “Angular Logic” and “Bate’s Motel”, where Taylor, the most committed improviser, harvests the most freedom. On the first, plunger-like snorts from bass clarinet adumbrate hunt-and-peck pianism and roistering cello slips which add up to a swinging narrative. Meanwhile the movement on “Bate’s Motel” is so supple that the fresh Balkan music-orientation of the clarinetist plus cello swipes output at the narrowest range encourages sneaky cartoon villain-like chording from Simmonds that latterly turn to heavy key pounding.

The Aussies on North of North don’t need any encouragement to open up the improvisations on their chamber-style session; it’s what they do most of the time anyways. Tremolo piano lines, fiddle scratches and blaring brass notes add up to their version of rubato narratives easily responding to each other’s cues. Affiliated in a conference of tone extensions, the three-pronged improvisations unroll at various pitches and tempos.

Ironically enough compared to some of Bay’s Leap’s efforts, “iLack” most closely resemble so-called classical chamber music with Veltheim and Pateras featured in standard roles Except here both improvisers extend techniques to their limits with shrill fiddle sweeps colliding with piano tones ranging from approximations of key dusting to passages at player-piano-roll speeds. Tinkler’s capillary trills finally appear in the track’s final sequence, but as free as his squeaky brassiness is, his contribution joins faultlessly, since it’s a tonal as the others’ output. Centred and sweeping, the title track is the perfect summation of the trio’s work: technical excesses shaved off, bright timbres melded; and powerful tonal affiliations.

Still “Your Tropes Are Showing” comes across as the most representative track. Plinking keyboard extensions, strident violin pressures and high-pitched brass grace notes unroll in triple counterpoint, expressing high energy in diverse fashions. With pointed piano patterns, plunger trumpet tones and stop-time violin glissandi expressed so that many notes and their extensions are also showcased, the piece sweeps to a finale that is sinewy, soft and swinging at the same time.

Perhaps an oxymoron or a new genre, Chamber Improv as elaborated by three different ensembles is demonstrated here. On evidence some are better at interpreting the concept than others.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Resonators: 1. Affective Labor 2. Soma 3. Locus Resonatus 4. Pirol

Personnel: Resonators: Petr Vrba (trumpet, clarinet and electronics); Irene Kepl (violin and electronics) and George Cremaschi (bass and electronics)

Track Listing: Swans: 1. The Fading Light 2. Worker's Playtime 3. Chasing Shadows 4. Bate’s Motel 5. Hanky Panky 6. Swans Over Dorking 7. Two Minus One Equals Three 8. Shepherd’s Quadrille 9. Angular Logic 10. Sugar Twist 11. Not Drowning but Waving

Personnel: Swans: Noel Taylor (clarinet and bass clarinet); Clare Simmonds (piano) and James Barralet (cello)

Track Listing: Moment: 1. Rucolalocalypse 2. Your Tropes Are Showing 3. iLack 4. Manufacturing Relevance 5. The Moment In And Of Itself

Personnel: Moment: Scott Tinkler (trumpet); Erkki Veltheim (violin) and Anthony Pateras (piano)