Check Test Check

Half Laboratory Half Band
Umland Records 30

Setoladimaiale Unit & Evan Parker

Live at Angelica 2018

Setoladimaiale SM 3880

Whether ad-hoc or regularly organized, committed to interpreting compositions or pure improvisation, little big bands can serve as flexible vehicles for musical expression. But besides a similarity in number of players, very little unites these ensembles except how each shrewdly solves sonic challenges. Live at Angelica 2018 adds veteran British improviser Evan Parker to a clutch of Italian players for a nearly 71¼ -minute single track sound exploration recorded in Bologna. Half Laboratory Half Band in contrast draws 10 players from the massive Essen-based The Dorf orchestra to experiment with five compositions by tenor saxophonist Jan Klare and two group improvisations that later may be added to the larger group’s repertoire.

Whether playing tenor or soprano saxophone Parker adds his inimitable voice to the proceedings, insinuating a kernel of reed trills or elongated circular breathing to the unfolding performance. Crucially though he doesn’t hog centre stage leaving plenty room for others. This includes treble flutters from Martin Mayes’ French horn, sometimes in double counterpoint with the saxophonist; timbres encompassing snaking toughness or mellow descriptions from any of Marco Colonna’s three clarinets; plus wordless vocalizing from Patrizia Oliva that’s pitched more towards plainsong and partial scat than provocative warbles. Preserving polyrhythm and polyphony throughout, the narrative is driven through energetic clip clops and rattles from drummer Stefano Giust and thick chording from pianist Giorgio Pacorig. At one point the performance slows down enough so that the pianist can deliver an impressionistic solo replete with multi level shading.

Notably, a middle sequence finally turns the theme from serene to agitated as the result of stretching clarinet tones, harsh keyboard clips and Michele Anelli’s powerful double bass thumps. The fourth section culminates in a miasmatic climax featuring emphatic tenor saxophone multiphonics and clarinet spills alongside overdubbed field recordings and electronics whizzes contributed by Oliva and Alberto Novello. Behind a straight-ahead clarinet line the other horns produce whiny cockatoo-like trills during the final sequence which opens up the program to stretch sounds in every direction. This produces a crescendo of suddenly unleashed power vibrating encompassing rolling drum beats, metronomic keyboard patterns slurping saxophone runs, string stops and ululating vocals, until splayed electronic processing mark the finale. .

As opposed to one comprehensive narrative, Check Test Check moves through a selection of motifs during its CD’s seven tracks. These involve each member of the group in a variety of configurations, with the emphasis on full blown swing sections, jittery affiliations or tricky harmonies involving say bassist Hannes Nebel and cellist Ludger Schmidt; contrapuntal fiddle lines from Julia Brüssel curtailing a sequence of massed horn work; or the clever way on “Escalator” in which the strings-heavy theme undulates distinctively until reed trills stake it apart. Instructively emphasized group tension almost overwhelms the foot-tapping thrust of “Swagger”; although it’s likely more balance will be created when the tune is subsequently refined by the full Dorf orchestra.

Overall though, it appears that “Dark” and “Bel air” provide the most scope for further exploration. An ambulatory exposition with rebounds from the bassist, reed cries from saxophonists Klare and Florian Walter plus a muted trumpet break from Markus Türk join with ascending patterns from the four string players for a narrative on “Dark” that’s as consolidated as it’s dissonant. Similarly “Bel air” makes the transition from romantic undulations and a moderate groove to shake off the introduction via Christian Hammer’s guitar twangs, drum top slaps and a walking bass line to turn it speedier and staccato. Finally a guitar fill surrounded by a crescendo of melded reed vibrations create a distinctive ending.

While only one of these CDs proclaims its developmental aims, both are confirmed instances of how to define speculative sounds in a little big band setting.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Intro 2. First 3. Second 4. Third 5. Fourth 6. Fifth.

Personnel: Live: Martin Mayes (French horn, alpenhorn); Marco Colonna (Bb, C, alto and bass clarinets); Evan Parker (soprano and tenor saxophones); Giorgio Pacorig (piano); Michele Anell (bass); Stefano Giust (drums); Philip Corner, Phoebe Neville (gongs); Alberto Novello (electronics) and Patrizia Oliva (voice, stem, electronics)

Track Listing: Half: 1. Helmet 2. Pell-mell 3. Escalator 4. Pêle-mêle 5. Dark 6. Bel air 7. Swagger

Personnel: Half: Markus Türk (trumpet; Moritz Anthes, Max Wehner (trombone); Florian Walter (alto saxophone); Jan Klare (tenor saxophone); Julia Brüssel (violin); Christian Hammer (guitar); Ludger Schmidt (cello); Hannes Nebel (bass) and Marvin Blamberg (drums)