180°

Submental
Splitrec 29

MétamOrphée

MétamOrphée

Free Sonne rnf 05

Phil Minton/John Butcher/Gino Robair

Blasphemious Fragments

Rastascan BR 0076

Defining who is a Jazz singer has long been a mug’s game, subject to all sorts of ifs and buts. However determining who is an improving vocalist is more straightforward – mostly through elimination. If recognizable words are lacking, melody and rhythm are secondary and vocal gymnastics include retches, yelps and other non-pleasant sounds, the case is strongly made for inclusion. Just as convincing, as free-form instrumentalist work out a particular program to expand creativity, so do advanced voice artists, as the British, French and Australian stylists here demonstrate.

A coming together of two veteran Australian improvisers, vocalist Amanda Stewart and bass flutist Jim Denley, who were part of the storied Machine for Making Sense group, plus acoustic guitarist Nick Ashwood, a recent Denley collaborator. Balanced among the trio members, but un-definable when trying to trace conventional timbres the eight tracks are driven by the guitarist’s unusual tuning and disjointed techniques which have him timbre crating from all parts of his instrument; Denley extended flute tones which have him creating an ostinato as well as forefront blowing; and Stewart’s low-pitched verbalization that is usually midway between incantation and recitation.

Showpiece of the session is the nearly 15-minute “Isoscles”, whose narrative mixes Stewart’s creative writing background with more open theatrics that has some of her mumbles forced through clenched teeth move into the realm of stream-of-consciousness raving. At the same time the instrumentalists speed up their output so that her syllabic deconstruction fits in with the chiming below-the-bridge scratches from Stewart and flutter-tongued or organ-like tremolo blowing from Denley. Eventually the string scrapes and rebounds, widening peeps and vocal babble reach a plane of congruence. This idea of interlocking creativity is clear from the very beginning as in “Scalene”, with the introduction consisting of low-pitched traverse whooshes, vibrating string rebounds and whispered syllable fragments. By the finale moody, low-pitched nattering and foreshortened flute vibrations mate at the same time as below-the-bridge guitar strums hold the beat. With enough extended techniques in use so tone-shifting buzzes can often sound like keyboard pulses, the trio’s textures at points even suggest electronic interface. This is particularly noticeable on the final “Equiangular” where Ashwood ‘s noisy abrasions and buzzing flanges give way to a clunky undercurrent which from below harmonizes Denley’s amplified storm-brewing like textures and Stewart’s throat cocks and cries.

An expanded variant of this intercommunication occurs on MétamOrphée’s self-titled disc, except here the voice is that of Julien Martin, the horn Nicolas Souchal’s trumpet with real ); percussion from Sylvain Marty and electronics contributed by Diemo Schwarz. The Paris-based quartet who have worked with among others, Frédéric Blondy, Jean-Marc Foussat and. Christiane Bopp, are more Jazz oriented, in part when the distinctive full-throated trumpet sound is heard on a track like “Mi-sommeil”, with unmistakable shakes flutter-tongued brassy grace notes are matched by measured rolls, concussion and whumps from the percussionist. At the same time Souchal’s slippery tongue and plunger patterning has to share space with slavering Donald Duck-like outbursts from Martin plus Schwarz’s programming that not only extends wave forms, but also live processes additional tones from trumpet and percussion so that at points they appear to be playing alongside or in opposition to themselves. Elsewhere Souchal spins inner-tube breaths, vocalized growls as well as staccato bites in contrapuntal front-line partnership with Martin’s crying warbles, back-of-throat froth, pain-laden shrills and choked delivery which makes it appear as if he’s forcing notes through a mask. Unlike Stewart there are no attempts of words and in the build up to the extended “Orphée sans fin”, his delivery is pliable enough that could be playing a kazoo, yodeling or warbles. Midway his torn-from-the-throat pitch accelerations match those of the trumpeter while disassociated drum beats rumble. Finally individual parts of the sound picture are mulched and deconstructed as granular synthesize from Schwarz’s electronics create reflecting sound shards that are just as abruptly cut off for silence.

The instrumental palate is expanded still further on Blasphemious Fragments. Multiphonic development is provided through the soprano and tenor saxophones of London’s John Butcher, while American Gino Robair moves among percussion, electronics and piano. Meantime the voice of fellow Brit Phil Minton, a veteran of such throat extensions creates textures that are part-Bebop and part-bestial. Robair, who has worked with many improvisers on both sides of the Atlantic, defines the performance parameters by “So ladylike the muse unsqueaked a ray of hopk”, the first track, by introducing digitalized dial-tuning static and snatches of radio-captured sounds and voices before the saxophone’s aching split tones and the vocalist’s gob, gurgles and growls are heard here and on subsequent tracks. Proving musical comments and rhythms from drum smacks and nerve beats, Robair helps regularize the narratives. Butcher and Minton, who have a playing relationship stretching back years, cycle through a cornucopia of pitches and tones with responsive tongue flutters, Falling doits, spetrofluctuation and general glottal punctuation used with particular skill on Butcher’s part. Given his head, Minton takes on many persona from that of a mumbling drunkard to a gurgling Bedlam inmate to a frenetic whistler as well as passages where a near-operatic lyricism almost touches on melody, His vocal command is such that when two complementary vocal lines are heard on “Small things, hewn from the same block” he could either be electronically double tracks or physically splitting his vocal exposition. The three-part evolution is neatly outlined most extensively on “Sumptuous disturbances (and a Carol)”, where choked throat noises evolve to duck-like quacks, extended cries and gurgles culminating in a vibrating line that could be sung by a counter tenor. While Butcher’s response comes in the form of repeated reed-biting honks, Robair adds distinct piano key clips, jittery electronics and radio waves, twanging strings and reaches a climax with stirring piano chords.

The voice may be the oldest of humanity’s instruments. Yet each of these discs shows how unique and futuristic sounds can be created acoustically and how well they mesh with instrumental virtuosity.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Submental: 1, Scalene 2. Equilateral 3. Oblique 4. Isoscles 5. Obtuse 6. Acute 7. Degenerate 8. Equiangular

Personnel: Submental: Jim Denley (bass flute); Nick Ashwood (acoustic guitar) and Amanda Stewart (voice and text)

Track Listing: MétamOrphée: 1. Vif-argent 2. Mi-sommeil 3. Descente 4. Euruydice 5. Orphée sans fin

Personnel: MétamOrphée: Nicolas Souchal (trumpet); Sylvain Marty (percussion); Diemo Schwarz (electronics) and Julien Martin (voice)

Track Listing: Blasphemious: 1 So ladylike the muse unsqueaked a ray of hopk 2. Blasphemious Fragments 3. Circumstantial 4. Maze of false promises 5. Sumptuous disturbances (and a Carol) 6. A simple man with irregular habits 7. Ruttledge's Door 8. Small things, hewn from the same block 9. Sustaining vain gestures in the air 10. Blue night. In the darkness of the dome they wait 11. Minced and gilded oaths

Personnel: Blasphemious: John Butcher (soprano and tenor saxophones); Gino Robair (percussion, electronics, piano) and Phil Minton (voice)