Barry Guy

September 12, 2005

Oort – Entropy
Intakt CD 101

Maya Homburger & Barry Guy with Pierre Favre
Maya MCD 0501

Established as one of FreeImprov’s most accomplished composer/bandleaders as well as a major improvising double bassist, Barry Guy continues to extend his musical range. Having slimmed down his main compositional tool, the 17-piece London Jazz Composers Orchestra (LJCO) to the more compact 10 piece, all-star Barry Guy New Orchestra (BGO), Oort – Entropy shows how the group reconstitutes specific sounds. The idea is to expand musical elements initially conceived for Guy’s trio with American pianist Marilyn Crispell and British drummer Paul Lytton.

Dakryon, on the other hand, explores an even more diminutive facet of his art. A member of an Early Music ensemble early in his career, Guy extends those concepts on several tracks of this CD. Using themes written by composers H.I.F. Biber and Dario Castello in the 17th century, these performances are in part baroque showcases for Guy’s wife, Swiss violinist May Homburger. Filling out the nearly 75-minute CD are contemporary Guy compositions eliciting the skills of the husband-and-wife duo plus Swiss drummer Pierre Favre.

Favre, another first generation Free player, recorded as guest with the LJCO in 1995 – as did Crispell. On Dakryon, he contributes a concluding less-than-two minute percussion solo and on one track with just Guy. However, the most noteworthy trio outing is the almost 19½-minute title track which appends pre-recorded sounds to improvisations.

Beginning with sonorous bass plucks, spiccato swells and lower-case drum rumbles, “Dakryon” expands into swirling interface from Homburger, harder and stronger pizzicato pulls from Guy and rattling and extruded accents from Favre. With pre-recorded chiming accents ornamented with percussion and a near Middle-Eastern interlude of bowed and vibrated double bass notes, the fiddler then contemplatively sounds the melody as ring modulator gong-like signals multiply. Eventually faint drum thumps help bring the ethereal extensions to a logical conclusion.

Favre’s multi-timbral drum kit augmentation allow him to rattle bells, shake cymbals and bounce snares behind Guy’s measured, almost lute-like rasgueado bass work on “Peace Piece”. Impressionistic, Favre’s sympathetic mallet work frames the bassist’s chromatic plucks so that each note echo is like a thrust with a finely honed dagger – incisive, but with no jagged edges.

Much of the CD’s remaining time is taken up by Homburger or Homburger and Guy performing works by two 17th century composers, Bohemian H. I. F. Biber (1644-1704) and Venetian Dario Castello (? – 1658). Biber, whose work was also recorded by the two on Ceremony (ECM), is best-known for his so-called Mystery Sonatas from about 1676, five of which are handled here.

Those compositions, plus other baroque inventions by Castello, take advantage of the violinist’s exquisite tone and phrasing. Legato mostly, staccato and spiccato sometimes, Homburger does more than replicate the proper harmonies. Taking advantage of the composers’ demand for scordatura or re-tuning, she brings a semi-mystical emotionalism to the pieces. True to 17th century basso continuo, Guy interweaves distinctive harmonies, both arco and pizzicato, which reflect his contemporary mindset as well as appropriate baroque techniques.

Moving from the 17th to the 21st century, Oort – Entropy shows how the bassist gives all his soloists and ensemble scope to spontaneously expand past customary boundaries. This is where a cross-section of experiences and cultures comes into play, since nearly every improviser is a veteran from a different country.

Parker and Lytton’s long-time trio-mate, Londoner Evan Parker is featured on tenor and soprano saxophones. The other reeds are Swiss bass clarinetist Hans Koch, who collaborates with numerous other free improvisers, and Swedish tenor and baritone saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, who is part of the GUSH trio with percussionist Raymond Strid, also featured here. Gustafsson and Swedish tubaist Per Åke Holmlander are part of Peter Brötzmann’s Tentet. German trombonist Johannes Bauer has played with everyone from Brötzmann to Australian violinist Jon Rose, while American trumpeter/flugelhornist Herb Robertson is now a member of drummer Gerry Hemingway’s quartet. Taking over BGO’s all-important piano chair from Crispell is Catalan Augustí Fernánderz, who has recorded with players as different in concept as reedist Parker and American bassist William Parker.

All stars are all right for a jam session, but it’s Guy’s framework which gives the 10 a structure within to operate. Especially when the pianist is most energetic, the performance relates to some of Cecil Taylor’s efforts with big bands. Other large groups brought to mind are Count Basie’s New Testament band – for the riffing saxes – Stan Kenton’s most jazz-like ensembles – for the flaunted brass passages – and most definitely Charles Mingus’ The Black and the Sinner Lady band, in the way the bass-lead ensemble leaps from dissonance to relaxation.

Nonetheless there are also plenty of surprises on tap as the three-part suite uncoils. True, Parker shows off his near-patented circular breathing, but there’s a point in “Part II”, where his introduction is positively Lesterian – as in Lester Young. Fernánderz may strum arpeggios and chord edgy tremolos, but he’s also capable of an andante fantasia, constant cadenzas and clinking single-notes.

Besides braying triplets, Robertson adds half-valve, hunting horn sonics that meld with penetrating tuba pedal tones. Plus the penultimate minutes of “Part III” feature Lytton and Strid eschewing their previous roles as colorists for a wholesale double drum volley, alive with paradiddles, rebounds and ruffs, as the horns blast vamps around them. Do you think they individually owned the famous Rich vs. Roach LP?

Koch’s individualistic slurs and snorts give the exposition many of its colors, suspended on top of buzzing notes and stop time emphasis from the brass. Meanwhile altissimo blusters or contrapuntal bass tones from the tuba depict the tincture of the final section.

All and all though, among the polyphonic interludes, Bauer emerges as the most consistently invigorating soloist. Like many post-Roswell Rudd stylists, he has one foot in the early gutbucket tradition and the other in post-modern New music. Balanced solidly by Guy’s architecturally-solid tonal centres that allow each instrument to be heard, he ascends with a series of buzzing and barking textures to a legato chromatic solo, then just as briskly drips burred notes one at a time as he descends the scale.Depending on whether you want your Guy in a miniature setting or piloting a large, integrated ensemble, either CD – or both – can satisfy.