Owl

Mille Feuille
SOFA 580

Pascal Marzan/Alex Ward

(VU)

Copepod POD 16

Creation of one fully acoustic program m and one that’s electro-acoustic is what separates these Northern European reed and guitar duos from one another. But at the same time the paradigms that infuse each disc are divergent if not antithetical. On Mille Feuille, the layers projected by Oslo-based alto saxophonist Signe Emmeluth and guitarist Karl Bjorå are essentially aleatoric with the chance elements affected by how much or how little control they exhibit in reacting to changes as they’re performing the disc’s six pieces. On the other hand, (VU)’s six tracks by London-based clarinetist Alex Ward and guitarist Pascal Marzan are firmly grounded in free improvisation. They’re in the main barbed and staccato, while Emmeluth’s and Bjorå’s interpretations include gentle undulations and horizontal patterning.

Marzan and Ward appear to be in constant motion from the first tones of “Tipping Point” the first track. Soon, the guitarist’s unbroken strums and the clarinetist’s woody exposition advance in double counterpoint. Maintaining a horizontal pulse even when shrill reed whistles are heard alongside whiny string stretches, a presto tempo doesn’t preclude Marzan from demonstrating how his instrument’s 10 strings can be hammered so that they take on dulcimer or sitar qualities. Meantime Ward’s glissandi encompass dog-whistle squeals and tongue-stopping lowing. At the same time, tempo shifts and flanking string pressure doesn’t prevent the duo from adding warmer and more restrained passages when conditions warrant them. Breezy reed glissandi and ringing string frails detour away from and contour into the intense narratives as much as wide-ranging tongue slaps and biting zither-like string stings. Reacting to the stimulus of each other’s interjections unexpected deviations arrive, as when reed-and-mouth noises and whistles in the final section of “Continental Drift’ are answered by steadying guitar clinks. Tough strumming and sibilant squeaks are maintained side-by-side with chromatic advances all the way to the concluding “High Seas”. Reflecting the introduction’s promise, intricate finger-style guitar work is featured as are penetrating string slaps and strops, as high-pitched peeps and multiphonics take their place alongside calming reed trills.

Penetrating reed bites and staccato string attacks also have their place on Mille Feuille. But Owl’s intensity is diffused by more melodic saxophone trills and dissected string frails as well as by diffuse oscillations and protracted pauses in the tracks for electro-acoustic balance. The last comes out most clearly on “Dive Deeper” as wave form jiggles and pops solidify into machine-driven buzzing intercut with guitar strums. Sharpened honks and brittle saxophone squeals are also heard. But the session’s evolution is such that transverse whistling to silent motifs on Emmeluth’s part, plus dissected thumbs and string hammering that lead eventually to theme fades are more common. Perhaps standing convention on its head the duo’s most extended definition occurs on “Upon Arrival You Forgot Why You Left”, the almost 21-minute primary track, which is almost longer than all the others combined. It’s also the most fully realized, since ghostly oscillations and low pitched programmed burbles get to line up alongside airy reed puffs and long-lined guitar strums. After this exposition, electronics continue to overlay or underlie the acoustic expression, which is defined in terms of choked reed trills and ringing guitar twangs, Building to a squeaky climax with shrill whistles and quick metallic runs across the strings, the first track’s finale sets up the rest of the program.

Distinctive duo work is present in both cases. As with distilled spirits, the choice might be if you prefer your libration straight or mixed with other elements.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: VU: 1. Tipping Point 2.Wobbles 3. Salinisation 4. Dimming 5. Continental Drift 6. High Seas

Personnel: VU: Alex Ward (clarinet) and Pascal Marzan (10-string guitar)

Track Listing: Mille: 1. Upon Arrival You Forgot Why You Left 2. On the Lookout 3. Let’s Crackle 4. Paradigm 5. Dive Deeper 6. Consensus, Time to Leave

Personnel: Mille: Signe Emmeluth (alto saxophone, electronics, recorders and percussion) and Karl Bjorå (guitar, electronics and percussion)