Live at the Club Polnishen Versager, Berlin 2016
Unisono-Records No #

Narrowing the gap between acoustic and electronic sonic landscapes, a quartet of improvisers collated their skills in a Berlin club to see what resulted. More a chronicle of contemplation and action than completed manifesto, the fascination of the disc lies in tracking the challenges and interactions which evolve during its two extended tracks.

Taking the acoustic side are two reed players, Finnish-born, Berlin resident Harri Sjöström, who worked an extensively with Cecil Taylor, playing soprano and sopranino saxophones; and American-born Köln-resident Jeffrey Morgan, who has recorded with Keith Rowe, on alto clarinet. Morgan has a duo with British electronics and signal processing pioneer Lawrence Casserley, also represented here, while Casserley’s fellow electro-acoustician is Berlin-based DJ Illvibe, whose turntable manipulation has included a duo with percussionist Demian Kappenstein.

Although there’s no percussionist per see on these tracks, ring-modulator resonations and drum-like pops from field recordings take that role, with the background additionally quaking with chimerical and atmospheric wave forms diffused by the electric instruments. The initial responses to these crackling oscillations on “Onklaguta” are prolonged almost pure vibrations from Sjöstöm, with equivalent resonating blowing from Morgan. DJ Illvibe’s upsets the narrative by interjecting dialogue and rapping from American voices that appear to have been sourced from a modern film noir sound track, flanged and deconstructed. He’s subsequently challenged by and his sounds contrasted with pinched yelps from the soprano saxophone plus a chalumeau continuum from the clarinet. Although it’s unclear whether it’s the horns or machines which personify the tough guy screen narrator, it does seem that Sjöstrom’s speedy sopranino tonguing and Morgan’s popping clarinet tone riff enough timbral exhilaration between them to make the electronics fizzle to a cooperative silence.

More of the same, the slightly shorter “Gutaonkla” features exchanges that are both more mellow and craggier. Maintaining their layered peep and grumble output, the distinctively pitched horns’ moderato narrative, is eventually amplified as the tuntablist introduces the sound of recorded gospel-like vocalizing. Although joint lyricism is ultimately stripped from the sequence via the saxophonist’s staccato tone, a tincture of underlying swing remains. Dual reed tremolos are subsumed by grinding electro-tinged interference until a solemn koto-like strum from the same source signals the end.

Perfect rapport between acoustic and electric instruments may never be possible – and may be beside the point. Still, the quartet here shows how memorable sounds can result from cooperative détente.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1.Onklaguta 2. Gutaonkla

Personnel: Harri Sjöström (soprano and sopranino saxophones); Jeffrey Morgan (alto clarinet); Lawrence Casserley (electronics, signal processing instruments) and DJ Illvibe (turntables)