Sergio Armaroli/Fritz Hauser

Angelica
Leo Records CD LR 895

Sergio Armaroli

Prismo

ezz-thetics 1022

Swiss percussionist Fritz Hauser and Italian vibraphonist Sergio Armaroli emphasize their instruments’ deliberate and lilting qualities plus their rhythmic functions by maneuvering between improvisation and chance music. Recorded within four months of one another these CDs testify to this delicate balance, with Angelica’s two extended tracks more inclined towards free music, while Prismo’s one extended and 10 much briefer tracks suggest leans towards the aleatoric. Another reason for the latter is that the duo is joined by Italian pianist Francesca Gemmo who has collaborated with Alvin Curran and Swiss cellist Martina Brodbeck, a member of the Basel-Sinfonietta. Hauser works with directors and choreographers and players like Joëlle Léandre, while Armaroli, involved with what he calls percussion concrète has played with Roger Turner among others.

Expressive echoes of repetitive vibraphone plinks and accented rattles and shuffle from the percussionist set up the live Angelica recital as the exposition judders upwards and downwards to expose the quickening theme. Yet as the narrative’s well-modulated metronomic parameters are emphasized, freer interludes where Armaroli’s lyrical intervention resembles Milt Jackson’s balladic skill and Hauser’s vehement strokes aim for Elvin Jones-like power arrive. In tandem or double counterpoint, the duo emphasizes both sides of the cadenced and chiming divide. The vibraphone’s motor power allows bell-like tinkles to undulate in the air or alternately create jagged metallic scrapes. Meanwhile Hauser’s versatility extends to strokes that resemble African hand drum malleability or thumping ruffs that suggest kettle drums. He works out simple patterns behind the vibist’s more lyrical passages or when Armaroli turns to tough ringing, he moderates the impact with a collection of guiro-like ratcheting stokes, maracas-like shakes and a showpiece of rolled paradiddles. Reaching a swirling climax of airy metal bar twinkles mixed with reparative drum pops the piece fades with a connective and distinctive buzz.

Four months later as part of a quartet, emphasis is on statelier and precise interpretations since the cornerstone of the session is Armaroli’s almost 30¼ minute through composed “Structuring the Silence Extended”. Initially expressed as mid-range lyricism from bowed cello and gentling vibraphone strokes, the dual introduction stretches into spiccato string squeaks and thinner vibe reverberations backed by cymbal plops. Changing pace before the half-way mark, swing inferences enter as Brodbeck plucks her instrument as if it was a Jazz double bass, Hauser paces drum top licks and Gemmo creates sprightly vibration. This restrained story telling becomes almost recital-ready formalism and briefly returns to suspended silence until interrupted first by a sequence if drum top rubs, bell ringing and chain shaking from Hauser and then by multi-string sul tasto string pulls that into a sequence of thickened cello buzzes. As this continues it’s contrasted with keyboard glissandi and maracas-like intonation from the percussionist. Straining upwards the final sequence of cello swipes and vibe ringing backed by piano plinks wraps up the program even as it recalls the introductory motif.

While that track is the opposite of animated with its mournful tempo, it sets up the paradigm as to whether the four should be considering a percussion ensemble or a strings and drums combo. Without coming down on one side or another, the musical architecture on the other tracks in duo, trio or quartet form suggests tentative answers. Essentially the duos showcase the antithetical or conjoined collaboration of various pairs like the strained and stretched string-stropped squeals of the cellist and pianist on “Duo Quattro” or the dissonant clanks the percussionist adds to Gemmo’s measured key clipping and octave leaps on “Duo Due”. Featuring vibes, piano and percussion “Trio Due” demonstrates how joining brief vibe strokes, doubled drum pops and slides from low to elevated piano pitches creates expressive dynamics. While “Trio Uno” subtracts Armaroli, limits Hauser to pitter-patter and plays up the challenge between the cellist’s sul tasto pressure and the pianist key cracks. Following the protracted “Structuring the Silence Extended”, the interlocking textures of the final “Quartetto Tre” and “Quartetto Sei” confirm the group’s multiple identities. In the first case lyricism arises from drum rolls and vibraphone bounces and in the second graduated motion is indicated with solemn percussion and intermittent string plucks that coalesces into a quiet drone. The exact genre within which the playing and composing of Armaroli and associates fit may be difficult to define. But these CDs s still propose compelling sounds.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Angelica: 1. Structuring The Silence (At Angelica) 2. Angelica

Personnel: Angelica: Sergio Armaroli (vibraphone) and Fritz Hauser (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Prismo: 1. Quartetto Cinque 2. Trio Due 3. Trio Uno 4. Duo Sette 5. Duo Cinque 6. Duo Due 7. Quartetto Quattro 8. Structuring the Silence Extended 9. Duo Quattro 10. Quartetto Tre 11. Quartetto Sei

Personnel: Prismo: Francesca Gemmo (piano); Sergio Armaroli (vibraphone); Martina Brodbeck (cello) and Fritz Hauser (drums and percussion)