February 3, 2020
John Yao’s Triceratops
How We Do
See Tao Recordings 003
Yves Robert/Bruno Chevillon/Cyril Atef
BMC CD 269
Heinz Geisser Ensemble 5
The Collective Mind Vol. 2
Leo CD LR 858
Consisting of improvisers from three individual countries, the quintet, quartet and trio programs featured here have two instruments in common and equally credible systems of aligning trombone and drum structures with other instruments. While tracks range from the lengthy to the terse, the sounds invoked depend on intuitive connections that don’t always gel. New York-based trombonist John Yao’s Triceratops is fully in the Jazz mainstream, with his compositions depending on blends among his horns the saxophones of Billy Drewes and Jon Irabagon, Peter Brendler’s bass and Mark Ferber’s drums. Broadened with electronic synthesis, the French trio of trombonist Yves Robert, electric bassist Bruno Chevillon and drummer Cyril Atef spreads its acoustic and progressed textures over the tunes on its CD. Meanwhile the all-Swiss Ensemble 5 – trombonist Robert Morgenthaler, pianist Reto Staub, bassist Fridolin Blumer and percussionist Heinz Geisser – weds its extended techniques to exclusively acoustic playing.
A respected educator and arranger, Yao also works with ensembles such as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the JMI Jazz World Orchestra, Drewes is a fellow Vanguard member; Irabagon works on many of his own projects, while singly or together Brendler and Ferber power many New York aggregations. On this CD the emphasis is on the trombonist’s non-playing talents although he does inject some, mid-range and slurry slide work during the tracks’ durations. In essence Yao’s experience with larger ensembles means that he’s able to invest this combo with the colors and layering one would expect from a big band. This is particularly noticeable on the introductory “Three Parts as One” and “Circular Path”. On the former, drums pops enliven this Freebop romp with its stacked timbres and floating variations. Following sheets-of-sound tenor work and slippery alto sax lines, it ends with a call-and-response coda. Meanwhile “Circular Path” is a canon with massed horn parts only to be exploded by the finale with pinched soprano sax vibrations and tough drumming. With other track moving among influences that take in swing (“Tea for T”), blues (“Triceratops Blues”) and early 1970s funk (“Doin’ the Thing”), there’s lyrical balance among all the sections. The loping “Doin’ the Thing” is another standout, featuring double-tongued, high-pitched, but never frenetic cries from Irabagon and a swift in-the-pocket solo from Brendler. No out-of-time dinosaur like its namesake, the Triceratops, Yao’ quintet doesn’t break or trample any new ground. But the eight tunes that make up the session confirm what as well as how the five do things.
Stylistically Robert’s trio couldn’t be more removed from the quintet’s concept since all 19 (!) tracks on its CD involve some form of electronic manipulation. Instructively though, the 20-year-old trio’s interaction is most notable when the members stretch their conceptions past programmable considerations into more affecting improvisations. Roberts, who has worked with the likes of Louis Sclavis and Joëlle Leandre and Chevillon who has interacted with electronic-oriented stylists like Marc Ducret and Franck Vigroux, have been a team since 1989, while Atef’s Diaspora percussion experience with CongopunQ and Fufu Machine adds another dimension to the CD. Exploding out of the gate on “j’ai raison, l’ordinator” with harsh gutbucket slurs from Robert, bass splatters from Chevillon and double-stroked cymbal clashes and a pseudo-march beat from Atef, three-part stop-time waves unite to create an uncommon theme. Overall though, this tripartite – or perhaps fourfold with electronics amalgam – is most effective in protracted tracks, rather than those in the one-minute zone that are mostly brief exercise in maximizing rhythm. On the other hand “le sperme du diable est froid” is activated by combining oscillated drones and lilting brassiness from the trombone. Underlined by cowbell and small-drum raps and backbeats plus thumping bass chords the tune sometimes threatens to expand into ProgRock. The extended “your skin” makes its presence felt through the perhaps unknowing metaphor in its title as Atef’s imaginative shuffles advanced with rumbles, ruffs and pops stand out from the sonic miasma. Robert’s vocalized almost chant-like capillary runs later undulate into dual harmony. Meantime the brief “vibre chaud” and the following even briefer “embrasser mon tuyau” hang together as carefully paced drum smacks and the bassist straddling a rhythmic line underlie snarling, almost dissected brass textures. open up in the second iteration with plunger tones from Robert. Propelling live processing as well as pre-set synthesis, watery burbles, extended slides and buzzing burrs from the trombonist are integrated into the narratives alongside oscillate wave forms. With the others contributing similar electronically fed ideas plus studied extended techniques from their instruments, sequences are built up, broken down and connected in many distinctive forms. While some tracks may reach defining surges or slinky definitions, fewer, longer tracks would have been more musically captivating.
The most purely improvisational trombone-and-rhythm program of this group of discs is unsurprisingly titled The Collective Mind. Directed by Geisser, whose affiliations include William Parker, Guerino Mazzola and others, the group-think is also propelled by the varied background of Morgenthaler, whose playing experience runs from Mel Lewis to Günter “Baby” Sommer; Staub is pianist in Ensemble Linea; and Blumer, has worked with Stefano Leonardi. Elongated and angular The Collective Mind’s eight tracks move decisively forward as each player is featured in turn, but without upsetting the designed collectivity that goes into these instant compositions. Although the trombonist’s rhino-like snorts, chortling slides, downward sighs and elongated flutter tones are most upfront, Morgenthaler’s interaction with say, skittering piano runs and hard-hitting percussion stomps on “Trompe l’oeil” maintains thematic continuity. Alternately the slipping and sliding assemblage on “4+1” negates its title by being more-or-less a duet between Morgenthaler’s multiphonic flutters and Staub’s slinky pumps and hunt-and-peck patterning. Low-key but the longest track “No bones about it” surprisingly also contains snorts and puffs from the trombonist and a concluding motif where Morgenthaler ratchets up his pitches to the only aerial scrapping of the session. Still Stab’s high-frequency key clipping and Geisser’s cymbal clatter, press rolls and final drum pops are the defining motions. “Blue-shifted”, the disc’s final track, eventually finds all of the quartet members in chromatic agreement. With place-holding thumps from Bliumer, skittering and swaying piano chords chugging away, double smacks and palm slaps from the drummer and slithering and disintegrating tongue flutters from the trombonist the climax is reached and then immediately cut off.,
As improvisers the Ensemble 5 achieves its goals without compromise to create engrossment for those who prefer their music freeform. Triceratops and the Robert trio produce high-quality programs from their perspectives as well. But either could benefit from overcoming some impediments.
Track Listing: Triceratops: 1. Three Parts as One 2. Triceratops Blues 3. How We Do 4. The Golden Hour 5. Doin’ the Thing 6. Circular Path 7. Two Sides 8. Tea for T.
Personnel: John Yao (trombone); Billy Drewes (soprano and alto saxophones); Jon Irabagon (tenor saxophone); Peter Brendler (bass) and Mark Ferber (drums)
Track Listing: Captivate: 1. j’ai raison, l’ordinator 2. dans les bras de morphing 3. moins que rien, plus que tout 4. pour tout au plus rien au monde 5. your skin 6. herpès 7. vibre chaud 8. embrasser mon tuyau 9. puis souffler sur la braise 10. respirer 3000 virus par seconde 11. l’eau qui rêve 12. le sperme du diable est froid 13. inoxidental 14. changer d’habit comme de chemise 15. algorythmique de danse 16. perdre le paradis et 75 cheveux par jour 17. à genou les puces 18. débarrassé du jésuschrisme 19. gagner 20 millions de cellules par seconde
Personnel: Captivate: Yves Robert (trombone, IT [Usine software]); Bruno Chevillon (electric bass, electronics) and Cyril Atef (drums, electronics, vocals)
Track Listing: Collective: 1 Peacock Dance 2. Trompe l’oeil 3. What if? 4. No bones about it 5. 4+1 6. Coco 7. Blue-shifted
Personnel: Collective: Robert Morgenthaler (trombone); Reto Staub (piano); Fridolin Blumer (bass) and Heinz Geisser (percussion)