Augustí Fernández / Barry Guy / Ramon Lopez

February 7, 2011

Morning Glory

Maya Records MCD 1001


The Passion

Multikulti MPI 011

Ozone featuring Miklós Lukács

This is C’est la Vie

BMC Records BMCCD163

Nils Ostendorf/Philip Zoubek/Philippe Lauzier


Schraum Records 11

Something in the Air: Global Combos

By Ken Waxman

Globalization, mass communication and travel have actually created certain situations where the standardization of everything from hamburger patties to drum beats can be experienced no matter where in the world a person is situated. Increased mobility also, for instance, allows like-minded musicians in different locations to exchange thoughts and ideas. Because of this, the 21st Century has seen the instigation of literal global ensembles; musicians who work together regularly but live in different cities, countries or even continents.

This situation is particularly pronounced among improvised musicians, since many players already travel far to find like-minded associates. One top-flight instance of this captured on Morning Glory Maya Records MCD 1001 by the trio of Augustí Fernández Barry Guy Ramón López. Although listening to the sensitive cooperation exhibited on the two CDS which make up this outstanding essay in the trio form would suggest that the three are inseparable, it’s not so. Pianist Fernández lives in Barcelona, bassist Guy in Switzerland and drummer López in Paris. The trio functions among other commitments. Here material is divided among group compositions and those written by the pianist or the bassist. Prime example of López’s sensitive accompaniment occurs on Pepetuum Mobile where his press rolls back the pianist’s kinetic pitter-patter and tremolo chording which evolves in double counterpoint with Guy’s dobro-like twangs or bow taps against his instrument’s wood. Tracks such as A Sudden Appearance confirm the trio’s atonality, encompassing Fernández’s outlined single notes, the bassist’s screeching sul ponticello sprawls and López’s rat-tat-tats. Other pieces such as The Magical Chorus and most of the second CD, recorded live in a New York club reflect the standard piano trio, with splashes of pianistic color perfectly matched with vibrating cymbals, bowed strings or staccato plucks that presage cascading keyboard runs. A tune such as Fernández’s “Aurora”, suggests an Iberian take on Hispanic rhythms, with the tremolo patterns revealing many keyboard notes in rapid succession, yet with the line stretched enough to keep the impressionistic narrative chromatic. Guy’s contrapuntal retort features scrapped and stropped strings while the percussion undertow is mostly rim shots and the timbres involved with crushing crisp paper.

A similarly impressive global quartet is made up of Polish woodwind player Waclaw Zimpel, Ukrainian bassist Mark Tokar, German drummer Klaus Kugel and American expatriate in France, pianist Bobby Few. Undivided The Passion Multikulti MPI 011 is literally that, a modern reimaging of Christ’s suffering and death. Lacking vocals or religious motifs, the seven-part suite is not so much overtly spiritual as musically superlative. A veteran of playing in churches, nightclubs and with spiritual jazz avatar Albert Ayler, Few takes naturally to the theme and throughout lets his frenetic chording and dynamic voicing create fantasias of their own, as clustered notes cascade like waterfalls or singular timbres are starkly outlined. Kugel’s steady clanks and cogwheel ratcheting is added to regular cymbal splashes as well as drum drags and ruffs for versatile percussion backup. Tokar’s perfectly balanced string slaps are mostly in the background, except when used to mark theme variations and transitions. Each, whether it’s with two-fisted piano clusters, spiccato runs or door-knocking thumps cleanly intersects with Zimpel, who is equally expressive on clarinet, bass clarinet and tarogato. Appropriately intense, Way of the Cross/Crucifixion/Death finds the reedist involved with pressurized glossolalia, reed bites and emotional split tones as his solo varies from stopped silences to squeakily speaking in tongues. Around him in a broken-octave concord are buzzing bass lines, vibrating drum tops and gospel-inflected processional chords from the pianist.

One important ingredient in Zimpel’s woodwind cornocopia is the unique timbres of the tarogato, Hungarian-invented saxiophone cousin. Although French reedist Christophe Monniott doesn’t play it on This is C’est La Vie, the newest CD by his Paris-Budapest band Ozone BMCCD163, includes sounds from the equally indigenous cimbalom or multi-string hammered board zither, played by Miklós Lukács to those created by fellow Hungarians, keyboardist Emil Spányi and percussionist Joe Quitzke. Ozone’s CD is notable in its mixture of electronics and inclusion of jazz standards such as Poinciana and Sophisticated Lady. With Monniott on low-pitched baritone saxophone then latter is treatyed uniquely as his smeary split tones and squeals brush up against the reverberating arpeggios and string pops from Lukács. In contrast, Poinciana is backed into with keyboard splatters and signal-processed lines as the double-time treatment eventually encompasses Spányi’s multi-fingered syncopated runs and Monniott’s tongue vibrato on alto saxophone, ending with vocoder modulations from the saxman and portamento runs from the piano. More intriguingly, tracks such as the title tune welcome all influences. Here Monniott’s high-pitched, corkscrew-like vibrations operate alongside Lukács’ twanging harp-like arpeggios played andante and staccato, backed by cymbal splashes and superfast piano comping.

Canadians are also involved in trans-border cooperation as demonstrated by Subsurface Schraum Records 11, by the trio of Montreal-based bass clarinetist and alto saxophonist Philippe Lauzier, and two Germans, Berlin trumpeter Nils Ostendorf and Philip Zoubek from Köln on prepared piano. Here instrumentalist’s extended textures create a soundscape of buzzed and granular modulations as if electronics are involved. They aren’t. Instead multiphonics arise from the piano’s stopped and striated strings, the reedist’s flat-line or pressurized vibrato and grace note flourishes from the trumpeter. On a track such as Spectral Radiance, Zoubek’s clipped and clanking chords are mixed with string pops that add wooden tones from then piano’s action, building up to a rough, broken-chord concordance with bubbling and buzzing staccato lines from the horns. In comparison, an interlude like Calm City lives up to its name as the pianist’s barely audible key strummed accompanies Ostendorf’s carefully shaped grace notes, as Lauzier’s extended puffs gradually swell in volume.

Unlike economic or political globalization, musical globalization is more benign. These sessions demonstrate the outstanding results when free-thinking musicians based in different locations are able to regularly create together.

— For Whole Note Vol. 16 #5