New Old Luten Quintet

Letzter Rabatz!
Euphorium Records EUPH 057

Akira Sakata & Chikamorachi with Masahiko Satoh

Proton Pump

Family Vineyard FV 104

All the struggles that go into constantly remaining relevant – and inventive – as an improvising musician cause many over the years to jump ship for smoother voyages. That’s why players in their seventies and eighties still pushing themselves to the pinnacle are valued. Two who do so consistently are Japan’s Akira Sakata, 73, and Germany’s Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, a venerable 84,

As these necessary CDs demonstrate one way the two saxophonists stay spy musically is to surround themselves with sympathetic younger players. On Letzter Rabatz for instance, Petrowsky, who plays alto saxophone, clarinet and Romanian shepherd’s flute, works with pianist Elan Pauer, percussionist Christian Lillinger and dual bassists John Edwards and Robert Landfermann, all of whom are 30 to 40 years younger than him. One of Sakata’s regular rhythm sections – bassist Darin Gray and percussionist Chris Corsano – are of similar vintage to Petrowsky’s crew. But to further confirm the suppleness of septuagenarians, Proton Pump’s special guest is 76-year-old pianist Masahiko Satoh, who has played with everyone from Karl Berger to Steve Gadd, and is also famed as a versatile composer/arranger.

Those last skills aren’t needed on Proton Pump’s four improvisations though. One of those sessions that could be used to define Energy Music, heavy drum pummeling, backwards running glissandi and revolving pedal-point are frequently on show. At the same time – and perhaps here’s another clue as to how older musicians stay relevant – is that sonic revolution is linked to evolution. Throughout the also saxophonist’s wide, lyrical tones are related to earlier stylists like Johnny Hodges and Pete Brown, and there’s a sequence on the title tune that a warbling-weaving Sakata/Satoh face-off could have come from Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck. Although the CD’s final track moves in-and-out of focus as a mainstream coda with as much swing as splintering, the story-telling aspect of the performance is splendidly displayed while maintaining musical cutting edges. Squealing tone ejaculations from Sakata’s clarinet are highlighted elsewhere, along with his vocalization, which at times descends to Noh theatre-like growling and at points accelerates to non-human shrieks, often mirroring reed patterns. As this continues the pianist’s key slapping and cross pulses are both aggressive and chromatic, matching the reedist’s strategies.

“Chemiosmotic Coupling of Acorn”, the most extended track, is also the showpiece demonstrating the quartet’s cooperation, with the pianist creating a strummed drone that’s partially Soul Jazz and partially South Indian, the riffs serve as fitting counterpoint to Sakata’s mystical vocal growls, warbles and (gibberish?) yells. As Satoh’s octave-spanning cadences pick up muscular affirmation from the bassist and drummer, the response from the alto saxophonist is widely spaced riffs that span Bird and Ornette considerations without losing individuality. Eventually his lines reach such a point of sound-barrier-breaking motion that they appear to be snaking back and accompanying themselves before the initial statement has finished.

Petrowsky too illustrates a playing style that’s wholly original while maintaining links to earlier improvisers. Letzter Rabatz’s single, nearly 47-minute track is a Free Jazz roller coaster that conveys the saxophonist’s extravagant flutter toning, reed buzzing and splayed split tones into a multiphonic meeting with muscular patterns and soundboard echoes from Pauer, gouging and kinetic percussion patterns from Lillinger, and with double basses moving on perfect tandem as in suspended animation. As the track rolls along, encompassing such oral-related sounds as wooden flute peeps and penny whistle-like swirls, Pauer’s note cascades skedaddle alongside Petrowsky’s output as do the drummer’s cymbal resonation and pops.

Whirling flute textures mix with guitar-like picking for a while, and then Edwards’ and Landfermann’s emphasis on modal pacing angles the piece to such an extent that the magisterial strategy of Petrowsky’s split tones and glossolalia take on a decidedly late-John Coltrane cast. With ancillary vocalization added to his horn outbursts – but with none of the near-frenzy that Sakata exhibits – and spurred by scalar asides from Pauer and Lillinger’s energized slaps, a variation of a later-Trane ensemble is suggested. Two-thirds of the way through the track, when one bassist begins playing Arco and the other pizzicato, saxophone yelps give way to splintered clarinet tones that calm and move the improvisation southwards. Finally a widening puddle of low-pitched string rubs, pedal propelled piano pressure and percussion pops become the wave forms upon which dynamic reed lines bounce with resolution.

Free improvisation has never been restricted to the young. These sessions confirm that a proper mixture of veterans and experienced younger players can produce spectacular results.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Letzter: 1. Lutens letzter Rabatz!

Personnel: Letzter: Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky (alto saxophone, clarinet and Romanian shepherd’s flute); Elan Pauer (piano and percussion); John Edwards and Robert Landfermann (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Proton: 1. Proton Pump 2. Bullet Apoptosis 3. Chemiosmotic Coupling of Acorn 4. Voyage of Eukaryote

Personnel: Proton: Akira Sakata, (alto saxophone, clarinet, vocals and percussion); Masahiko Satoh (piano); Darin Gray (bass and percussion) and Chris Corsano (drums)