Jon Raskin Quartet

Singing Songs as One
Temescal Records 108

Flouxus

Kind of the Blues

Gigantonium GIGO20 FLOU1

These quartets’ instrumentation may be similar, but the programs presented are as dissimilar as Oakland, Calif. is to Paris, France. Operating on the cutting edge of creative music for more than 40 years as a member of ROVA, the US quartet is one of saxophonist Jon Raskin’s side projects with greater use of electronics and studio wizardry to multiply, mute or rearrange passages. His Bay area associates, who also are affiliated with many groups, are discriminating practitioners of the electro-acoustic arts: Liz Allbee, who plays trumpet and electronics, Gino Robair with prepared piano, percussion and electronics and electric guitarist John Shiurba.

Just as the Raskin Quartet alters the music with electronics, so the French Flouxus quartet puts a unique spin on the Blues and Jazz tradition. While the album title is a spoof on one of the most famous Jazz LPs, emphasis here is on the Blues, with touches of Surf Rock, Country Blues and Energy Music. The four even cover Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues”. Saxophonist/clarinetist Geoffroy Gesser is also a member of the Umlaut big band, trumpeter Quentin Ghomari is also in the band Papanosh, while drummer André Pasquet and guitarist Jean-François Riffaud are in the Syntax Error group.

Initially acoustic, Singing Songs as One begins with Raskin’s reed smears and bubbles backed by harsh electronic drones and guitar flanges. By “the ubiquitous nature of sound”, the second track, the parameters of the program are already established and projected from then on. As slinky metallic timbres echo from below, the wave form undertow is pierced with triple tongued reed honks and brass plunger tones. Later on watery reed slurs, cymbal crashes and feline-directed trumpet yowls are prominent, as are discordant string strums. Raskin even brings out his baritone saxophone for a powerful finale on “membrana tympaniformis interna” that blends with heraldic brass slurs, string shakes and percussion thwacks. .

But the most extensive amplification of the quartet paradigm is on “configuration and positioning”. A mixture of straight ahead and varying textures the piece moves from a circling a capella duet of slurs and doits from Raskin alongside Allbee obbligatos, to oddly tuned guitar licks as a middle layer, as electronic buzzes and piano pedal pressure make up the lowest tranche. Although the horns finally slide up the scale broken octave flutters maintain linear movement. With other sequences emphasizing timbres ranging from string flanges, metallic thumps, delicate reed peeps and brass plunger tones, the constant amplifications and diminishing of the themes allows for close examination of a collection of usual, and more often, unexpected timbres.

If the American quartet’s studied examination and expression of unforeseen single and multiple timbres situates it firmly in the 21st Century, then the French foursome works to adopt 20th Century tropes. While there’s a bit of Fluxus-like burlesque in titles, the backwards running sound that begins the CD and touches of Dixieland and Swing that taint various tracks, a POMO commitment to hard core Jazz and Blues is genuine. So “Traveling Riverside Blues’ has as many clarinet licks and trumpet smears as guitar frails, making you imagine a gig where imagine Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodds sat in with Robert Johnson. Meanwhile the bridge between “Bribes Blues” and “Worms” runs through BB king-like guitar twangs, soaring trumpet pops and crunching horn vamps that owe more to Chicago Blues than anything near the Seine. Furthermore “Geoffrey Collage” – a giveaway title – manages to cram bugle-like ascending patterns from Ghomari, nerve beats from Pasquet, strained and swallowed sax notes from the composer and guitar twangs from Riffaud that wrap up into a Swing Era-style ballad all in 2¾ minutes.

But the real demonstrations of Flouxus’ skill comes on the two penultimate tracks that are mirror images of each other. Percussive and vibrating, “Yeck” picks up more power as it moves forward with seeming unstoppable horn vamps. As presto and allegro as the former tune was lumbering, “Bicylindre” offers a foray into musical humor. There are cowbell clangs, barnyard snarls, crowing and yelping from the horns and cattle herding guitar strums. Then after some 1930s high notes from the trumpeter, all the players contribute to a Rock-Blues-like pulse that could suggest Flouxus want to audition to be Ike Turner’s backing band.

One of the wonders of creative music is how such similarly constituted bands can sound so different. There’s no difference in quality however, so it’s up to the listener to choose: one, the other or both.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Singing: 1. sing call chatter and screech 2. the ubiquitous nature of sound 3. interspecific communication 1 4. configuration and positioning 5. singing songs as one 6. interspecific communication 2 7. variation and specification; transferal of memes 8. membrana tympaniformis interna

Personnel: Singing: Liz Allbee (trumpet and electronics); Jon Raskin (alto and baritone saxophones) John Shiurba (guitar) Gino Robair (prepared piano, percussion and electronics)

Track Listing: Kind: :1. One kind of blues 2. Ça 3. Traveling Riverside Blues 4. Moquette 5. Bribes Blues 6. Worms 7. Geoffrey Collage 8. Yeck 9. Bicylindre 10. Plinthe

Personnel: Kind: Quentin Ghomari (trumpet and slide trumpet); Geoffroy Gesser (tenor saxophone and bass clarinet); Jean-François Riffaud (guitar) and André Pasquet (drums)