On Dog

ILK Records 307 CD

Attaining a symmetrical delineation with a three-person reed section and rhythmic contributions from guitar and drums, the Italo-Danish On Dog group’s designated strategies advance its particular vision. That means the quintet, and its chief composers – Danish-Argentinean guitarist Mark Solborg and Italian saxophonist/clarinetist Francesco Bigoni – balance free form grooves, improvisational flights with chamber-music-like formalism and detours into Rock-like audacity as well as electronic oscillations. This happens over the course of 11 tracks, but ingeniously, so the bones never show through the body of work.

All players are veterans of many scenes. Solborg has worked with Evan Parker and Axel Dörner; Bigoni with Zeno De Rossi; Italian reedist Piero Bittolo Bon with Peter Evans; Italian woodwind player Beppe Scardino with Bobby Previte; and Luxembourg drummer Marc Lohr with dancers and electronic musicians.

The comparison between delicacy and roughness is most obvious on the penultimate “Schnauzers” and “The Cat Takes Revenge and Kills Curiosity”. The ferocious canine bites include New Thing-like split tones and vamps buzzing from the horns, while Lohr’s gritty beats and electronics steady the bottom. In contrast the feline track is kitten fur soft with a refined clarinet lead, a gentle flute finale and quiet guitar reverb cushioned by the horn section.

It’s this thesis and antithesis which dominates the entire session, with acerbic timbres as prominent as calm sequences and the element of surprise paramount when unexpected passages are suddenly heard. Layered saxophone vamps that would make Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes proud appear as early as “J’accuse, Mancoose” coupled with hard-Rock drumming but muted with remote guitar frails. Meanwhile “Chebyshev Chihuahua/Stray Dogs II” folds baritone sax slurps, doubled flute textures, drum clip clops and even a burst of vocal cries into a jumpy melody. Natural harmonies propel some tracks forward, while others are disrupted by narrow guitar clanks, snarling reed bites or place making gongs from the drummer. But despite this and common defaults to broken octave narratives, each musician’s part is clearly stated and never disrupted by technical asides. Even electronic judders are used sparingly, most often for descriptive color in tandem with warm clarinet explorations or simple guitar picking.

On the evidence here On Dog has created a unique identity for itself. But this CD was recorded in 2016. It’s time to hear what more the five will bring to the table – or is it the dog bowl?

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Stray Dogs I 2. J’accuse, Mancoose 3. Nimmersatt 4. Chebyshev Chihuahua/Stray Dogs II Black Pipes Suite: 5. Pipes 6. Slides 7. Word of Mouth 8. Elliptic 9. Schnauzers 10. The Cat Takes Revenge and Kills Curiosity 11. Dielectric

Personnel: Piero Bittolo Bon (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute. voice ); Francesco Bigoni (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Beppe Scardino (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet); Mark Solborg guitars, electronics) and Marc Lohr (drums, electronics)