Spiritual Prayers
Leo Records CD LR 842

Gebhard Ullmann & Alexey Kruglov

Moscow Berlin

Fancy Music Fancy 098

Two duets, these CDs feature four musicians from four different countries who have adopted contradictory approaches to express a range of textures through reed admixture. The self-evidently titled Moscow Berlin features 15 performances by Russian Alexey Kruglov, who plays alto saxophone, prepared alto saxophone, alto saxophone mouthpiece, bass clarinet and recorder and German Gebhard Ullmann using tenor saxophone, prepared tenor saxophone, tenor saxophone mouthpiece and electronics, recorded after the two had already concertized on a then-recent tour. Another cog in the seemingly nearly endless succession of discs featuring Brazilian tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman, Spiritual Prayers matches him with American bass clarinetist Jason Stein, who he had never met before the date, for eight spontaneous creations.

Perelman, who has partnered players ranging from Matthew Shipp to William Parker, was looking for a bass clarinet individualist with whom to improvise and from his beginnings as a Jazzer, Chicago-based Stein has played nothing but that horn in the company of musicians including Josh Berman and Chad Taylor. This bass clarinet concentration means that Stein’s dexterity allows him to range through all of the instrument’s registers as well as into extended techniques. No mainstreamer himself, Perelman’s reliance on split tones, flutter tonguing and harsh asides means that these exercises in double counterpoint feature aspects of sweetness and harmony, but never eschew the spiky for the smooth.

With the saxophonist’s register preference coloratura to altissimo and the clarinetist’s coloratura to chalumeau, the musical color scheme is complementary but with pointed edges. An aspect of this is obvious on “Part 3” as the swirls and squeals and flattment output from both horns toughens as it contrasts, soaring to a point of congruence without every splintering the connection. This perfect challenge and modulation continues throughout the suite, culminating in a finale of doubled trills that follow intertwined and laid-back peeps and beeps on the final “Part 8”. Along the way distortions share space with dulcet tones, as the duo’s guttural slurs and irregular vibrations sometimes pull back to reveal a moderato strategy underneath. On “Part 7” for instance, Perelman and Stein could be performing an updated Buddy DeFranco-Stan Getz duet, rife with unexpected mellowness, resulting from soaring parallel vibrations. Earlier on, along with a hint of Eastern European folk melodies, expositions are sometimes decorated with melodic motifs that peek in-and-out of the Perelman’s altissimo screams and Stein’s chalumeau vibrations, leading to concentrated sound masses and/or layered reed facades.

With more instruments on hand and more tracks among which to spread their interpretations, Ullmann’s and Kruglov’s visceral program has more space to express a variety of moods. While Perelman/Stein’s self-described Spiritual Prayers are propelled with abject earnestness, the German-Russian duets move from the most tongue-twisting dissonance to romping affiliations with Eastern European dances or March time. “Gulf of Berlin” for example offers a mid-way change of pace during a program of triple tonguing and extended multiphonic sound explorations, with a track that, animated and jolly, depends on both players on alto saxophone jumping the changes until they reach a melded timbral climax. Meanwhile on “Five/5”, the nearly 7½ minute longest track, the dual saxophone staccato pulse becomes more and more expressive as it moves from speedy split tone lip vibrations and squeals to a call-and-response between lower-pitched buzzes and accelerated stutters, finally settling into a chromatic narrative that ambles towards a relaxed ending of blended reed tones.

Before that, almost every variation on encounter has been put into play form juddering ostinato from bass clarinet meeting high-pitched alto saxophone trills on “Sounds Glow” to a woody narrative of tenor saxophone, prepared tenor saxophone and mouthpiece snarls on “Moscow - Berlin Express, Pt. 2”, to a “Conversation”, that comes across as a duet for imaginary bagpipes, packed with feathery light and heavy blanketing timbres carefully layered. Besides reflections on Easter-European-like folk melodies that characterize several tracks, usually with an emphasis on bass clarinet lowing and alto saxophone story-telling, many of the tunes are conventional enough to include theme reprisals as if the two were playing mainstream Jazz numbers. There’s even a point on “Determination” where Ullmann’s and Krugalov’s relaxed and ripened unison saxophone timbres resemble aspects of the Ellington saxophone section with the lead and tonal embellishments passing from one to the other, before tongue-scrapping variations, which don’t undercut the chromatic flow arrive.

Still there are also enough forays into dissonant territory with irregular vibrations, spetrofluctuation, flattement and split tones to confirm the 21st Century outlook of the two. Besides tunes built around deep echoes from within the bass clarinet’s bottom and shrill recorder peeps, the timbre colors splattering around “Echoes of G.o.B.” are evidentially constructed from mouthpiece blowing alone.

Skillful creativity and cooperation characterize the best duets of any sort – even from affiliated instruments. And both of these discs show that they belong in the exalted area.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Spiritual: 1. Part 1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 4. Part 4 5. Part 5 6. Part 6 7. Part 7 8. Part 8

Personnel: Spiritual: Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone) and Jason Stein (bass clarinet)

Track Listing: Moscow: 1. Moscow - Berlin Express, Pt. 1 2. Sounds Glow 3. Poet 4, Go East (Im Sommer) 5. Moscow - Berlin Express, Pt. 2 6. Gulf of Berlin 7. Echoes of G.o.B. 8. Conversation 9. Yeah Clarinet! 10. Five/5 11, Go East (Im Frühling) 12. Für Johann S. 13. Doors from the 1900's 14. Determination 15. Seal of Time

Personnel: Moscow: Alexey Kruglov (alto saxophone, prepared alto saxophone, alto saxophone mouthpiece, bass clarinet and recorder) and Gebhard Ullmann (tenor saxophone, prepared tenor saxophone, tenor saxophone mouthpiece and electronics)