October 8, 2019
Hans Koch/Jacques Demierre
Herbal Concrete Disc 1901
Amirani AMRN 055
Raymond MacDonald/Marilyn Crispell
Songs along the Way
Babel Label BDV 17149
Thousand Seconds of Our Life
NoBusiness Records NBCDLT 3
Seemingly simple, when extrapolated by dedicated improvisers the album-long melding of piano and reed tones is actually much more complex. That’s because, as this quartet of discs confirms, the end product can range from brushes with the mainstream, even without playing shopworn melodies, to the furthest stretches of sound explorations.
Most experimental of the discs is Incunabulun, featuring Swiss reedist Hans Koch and keyboardist Jacques Demierre, who have been probing timbre expansion for years, Koch most famously with Koch-Schütz-Studer and Demierre with Urs Leimgruber and Barre Phillips. Noteworthy in that none of the eight wordily titled sequences on Incunabulun need the usual rhythmic impetus the two get in more conventional groups. Instead the tracks’ dynamic ranges are expanded via Koch’s clarinet and saxophone timbres as well as Demierre’s fluid note bending on piano and upright spinet. The CD’s first track, “But There Were No Words”, explodes out of the starting gate with a simultaneous spray of keyboard cadenzas plus plucked and stopped inner at the same time as Koch blurts out a collection of expanded honks and growls. Parallel multiphonics are explored throughout. The finale, “But You Know That Even Before You See the Pyramids You're Going to Take a Camel Ride” offers more of the same, as tuned-drum-like echoes from Demierre are created by key and string stops from the lowest part of the piano’s soundboard. Meanwhile Koch acquits himself with dense crying vibrations. On other tracks, between the reed slurs and toots plus plucked strings and metronomic keyboard pulsing, the two express their versatility along with virtuosity. Several of the pieces trade frenzy for finesse, with the keyboardist’s sophistication expressed through measured piano plucks or in searching for the appropriate patterns, while the track judder from the noise of items pulled across the wound strings. Similarly Koch’s bent notes are used to create a buzzed ostinato or to inflate the narrative still further with thin whistles echoing onto and back from the piano strings.
Using only tenor saxophone (Stefano Ferrian) and piano (Simone Quatrana), the Milan-based improvisers express their ideas and teamwork as A-Septic during the seven duos which make up Syria. The two, who have recorded with players such as Ken Vandermark and Mikolaj Trzaska, dedicated this CD to that war-torn Middle Eastern country. Yet its emphasis is on music not propaganda. Most of the time, perhaps in a suggestion of peace-keeping, it’s Quatrana’s near-recital-ready piano strategies that provide comforting counterpoint to Ferrian’s harsh and bellicose exposition and vice versa. This occurs on “Storm Wi (N) Dow Me” as the saxophonist’s wide vibrato and triple tonguing is moderated with sprawling glissandi so that the high-pitched puffs eventually meld alongside low-frequency keyboard variations. The converse is a track such as “Broken Watch” where circular moderato keyboard lines are challenged by the saxophonist’s irregular split tones which escalate to sheets of sound. Making a virtue of different conceptions, Syria is most profound when great swaths of pianism moderato jerky reed expression and irregular vibrations.
As a change of pace, Scottish saxophonist Raymond MacDonald and American pianist Marilyn Crispell use a duo to express the romantic musical elements usually hidden in their more avant-garde work. On the giveaway titled Songs along the Way, MacDonald, known for his membership in the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, and Crispell for her tenure with Anthony Braxton, express themselves on 11 tunes that are mostly languid without being touché and moving without losing motivation. Probably the key track on the disc is MacDonald’s “Why I Missed Cole Porter”, the melody of which sounds as if it’s a hitherto unknown classic of the Great American Songbook. Still the pianist and saxophonist are too sophisticated as improvisers to let charm overcome chance music and add an appropriate amount of swishing glissandi and piled on reed vibrations to destabilize the tune’s prettiness. Actually textural experimentation evolves as the CD progresses. Measured romantic intersections, sparked by emotional key chording and expressive reed tonality change course by the penultimate and final sequences. On an improvisation such as “Stars” wide phrasing and seemingly unstoppable split tones and flutter tonguing on MacDonald’s part coupled with Crispell’s inventive keyboard patterns stretch the theme further and further out into vibrations distributed among the limits of pitch and intensity. The pianist’s low key tone shading isn’t lost in this volte-face though and it too is expressed on “Vortex”. A sonic whirlpool, but one in which neither player is lost, the nearly 14-minute tune tracks the tonal evolution of MacDonald from echoing Johnny Hodges-like expressiveness to narrative deconstruction with growls and reed bites, and climaxes with tongue-stopping pressure. Crispell’s entrance with bouncy key clips and pedal pushed low notes induces the saxophonist to change to lower-pitched notes and intensity vibrations. Together her keyboard galloping and his extravagant sound variable restructure the piece but without losing its forward motion. That concept in toto is what subtly underlines the session.
With enough mainstream romanticism to reify MacDonald’s and Crispell’s avant-garde credentials are the dozen selections on Thousand Seconds of Our Life. Created by two evolving Lithuanian stylists, pianist Dmitry Golovanov and soprano saxophonist Jan Maksimowicz, both of whom usually play in larger groupings and sometimes with electronics, relaxed melodiousness is paramount here. In execution Maksimowicz’s expanding airiness suggests a tone that would have floated from Stan Getz if he had recorded on soprano saxophone, while Golovanov’s flowery ripostes evoke beauty, but only rarely toughen the expositions. With almost all of tunes at similar tempos and voicing sameness creeps in, with ideas dancing on the surface rather than attaining a more profound interaction. Some efforts to change course as on “302 Seconds” featuring sharper flutter tonguing and upwards spurts from the saxophonist, or keyboard directed theme re-harmonization in response to sliding tongue slurs on “337 Seconds”, vary the program somewhat, but perhaps additional players and/or more musical idea would have helped.
At least this Lithuanian effort, coupled with the others confirmed the variety of the reed-keyboard interaction. Not one could be mistaken for any other.
Track Listing: Incunabulun: 1. But There Were No Words 2. But We Weren't Prepared to Enter The Game of Musical Houses 3. But I've been Living Here for a Long Time 4. But I Didn't Know If I Could Do This5. But I Imagined Him Racing Madly Down The Beach to Dive Into the Surf 6. But This Was All Kind Of New To Me 7. But Things Were Going Pretty Smoothly
8. But You Know That Even Before You See the Pyramids You're Going to Take a Camel Ride
Personnel: Incunabulun: Hans Koch (bass clarinet, soprano and tenor saxophones) and Jacques Demierre (spinet and piano)
Personnel: Syria: 1. Sūriyā (Prologue) 2. Storm Wi (N) Dow Me 3. Neve Rossa 4. Unreachable Consonance 5. Sounds 6. Broken Watch 7. Sūriyā (Epilogue)
Track Listing: Syria: Stefano Ferrian (tenor saxophone) and Simone Quatrana (piano)
Track Listing: Songs: 1. All the Songs above Your Head 2, Roundabout 3. Why I Missed Cole Porter 4. Beach at Newquay 5. Foresee 6. Vortex 7. We are Going 8. Neolithic 9. Stars 10. Across the Reservoir 11. The Gallery
Personnel: Songs: Raymond MacDonald (alto and soprano saxophones) and Marilyn Crispell (piano)
Track Listing: Thousand: 1. 300 Seconds 2. 170 Seconds 3. 207 Seconds 4. 72 Seconds 5. 337 Seconds 6. 50 Seconds 7. 228 Seconds 8. 140 Seconds 9. 302 Seconds 10. 93 Seconds 10. 210 Seconds
Personnel: Thousand: Jan Maksimowicz (soprano saxophone) and Dmitry Golovanov (piano)