Noël Akchoté/Luc Ferrari/Roland Auzet

May 17, 2004

Blue Chopsticks BC12

 Dave Tucker West Coast Project
Pax PR 90264

Eventually, it seems that when a musician truly wants to express himself most freely, he must get involved with improvisation. Take these two CDs as evidence.

Englishman Dave Tucker gained his greatest fame as guitarist for the rock group The Fall in the early 1980s. Since then he’s turned to improv, playing with saxist Evan Parker and drummer Roger Turner at home and matching wits with this Bay area crew on a visit stateside.

More fascinating still is the other session, for it features the improv debut of French musique concrète pioneer Luc Ferrari as an improvising pianist. Since the 1950s, Ferrari (born 1929) has experimented with different instrumental combinations, used tape in composing and even written scores that included space for improvising musicians. But it took the arrival of the freer 21st century, and his appreciation of the guitar mistreatments of Parisian Noël Akchoté to get one of the founders of the Groupe de Recherche Musicale to contribute instrumentally himself. Besides piano, Ferrari also utilizes hand-held mikes attached to an amp and loudspeakers in the studio to create what he calls new, real-time concrète.

His many decades-younger collaborators are percussionist Roland Auzet, founder of Cirque du Tambour, who has performed ultra-modern scores by Ferrari and Iannis Xenakis, plus guitarist Akchoté, who has collaborated with, among many others, Parker, plus British guitarists Derek Bailey and Fred Frith.

There isn’t that much of a generation gap between Tucker and his five California colleagues, which may be why Tenderloin appears to lack the same red-hot sense of discovery found on the other disc. Too many tracks that aren’t given sufficient time to develop, may contribute to this as well. TENDERLOIN’s 13 pieces, which take almost 67½ minutes to unroll, seem to engender a more drawn out program than what’s audible on the five tracks of slightly less than 67¾ minutes on Impro-Micro-Acoustique.

Not that Tucker doesn’t have fine backup for his work on guitar and electronics. Ernesto Diaz-Infante on amplified acoustic guitar has been involved in experimental sessions on both coasts. Bassist Damon Smith has recorded with German reedist Wolfgang Fuchs and British saxist Tony Bevan. Both he and Garth Powell, who plays drums, percussion and idiophone here, recorded with Italian saxist Gianni Gebbia, while Scott R. Looney who brings real-time laptop processing to the proceedings, has recorded with Bevan and local Free Jazz saxist Jim Ryan. Only cellist Danielle DeGruttola isn’t that well known.

On the other hand her contributions help define the basic tension between the acoustic and electro-acoustic impulses showcased. On “Nihonmachi”, for instance, the busiest and most representative piece, her slashing, tremolo work bridges the single note picking from Diaz-Infante’s acoustic guitar and Tucker’s sudden exposure of the wah-wah pedal. Sonic shape is provided by Smith’s unvarnished, forward-pressing bass, as Powell thwacks unattached cymbals and a bell tree, and Looney processes organ-grinder sounds from his laptop. Buzzing, ponticello from both low stringed instruments move the theme along as the other instruments stop and start around them. The end features higher-pitched, guitar-driven contortions.

Methodical bow-lifting from the cellist often makes her playing an island of calm among the extended techniques on display during the tunes, which are all named for various hip Bay area landmarks. Sometimes, as on “Cow Hollow”, the rural-sounding, flat-picking, configurations become paramount and mix with double-stopping shuffle bowing from the bassist. “Mission Dolores” on the other hand, features the crackle and static of electric-emphasized delay, reverberated all over the sonic space with flanging and echoing effects from Looney and Tucker. Yet those sounds still face off against Africanized percussion spirals, as the rhythm takes on a modified, metallic berimbau pulse.

Elsewhere, oscillating waveforms shrill and quiver at different tempos, morphing into otherworldly whistles and screams. Guitar reverb increases in volume and adds feedback until shrill crescendos are reached, in contrast to the folksy finger picking that sometimes arises from the acoustic axe. And there are times when burbling video game timbres face off against solid rhythm guitar-like strumming.

However, there aren’t enough conflicting sonic impulses to properly illuminate each and every track here. As good as TENDERLOIN is in small doses, the overall appreciation of the CD as a single listening experience would have been vastly improved by cutting some of the sounds and making it a taut less-than-one-hour disc.

On the other hand, by limiting themselves to five tracks of no more than 11 minutes each, IMPRO-MICRO-ACOUSTIQUE’s trio allows the sounds to germinate organically. Interestingly enough as well, despite Ferrari’s background, the only piece which even touches on musique concrète is “Sur le rythme,” coincidentally or not the final track.

That impulse doesn’t arrive until the final one-third of the track either. It does so in the form of a welcoming phrase, that seems to originate from pulling the cord in a mechanized child’s toy and mixing the resulting sound with the other improvisations. As Akchoté flat-picks beneath-the-bridge kora-like suggestions and Auzet’s rim percussion motions sound as if he’s playing a berimbau, the other image created is that of a tribe of African percussionists set loose in a toy shop. Shortly, however, the vamp evolves to toque, referencing both Latin and African percussion, but with the tempo staccatissimo. Later, it appears as if the percussionist is playing the most traditional of European noisemakers — spoons.

Additional percussion arrives from the pianist applying pedal pressure as he dampens the strings and hammering on the instrument’s sides. Akchoté adds harsh guitar strums; Ferrari abbreviated keyboard patterns, while working his way up the scale with his right-handed single notes; and Auzet’s output morphs from xylophone-like slides to batá-like drum beats.

This primitive-futuristic dichotomy is present as early as the more-than 15½ minute “Sur le contraste”, where rolling clave-like nerve beats from the drummer meet warbling guitar reverberations and a repeated, low frequency piano part. Circling this are unconnected timbres that could be paper being balled and crumpled, push button telephone dial tones, or squirrels munching on the piano’s wood.

Full force, two-handed piano crescendos and their echoes as well as arpeggio manipulation of the internal piano strings are then exposed. So are chromatic, banjo-like picking and single notes with bottleneck reverberation. Auzet adds to the sonic soup, at points by exposing sharp objects being dragged along cymbal tops, spinning unselected cymbals, and somehow creating an electric hand drill buzz.

With key clips and flailing guitar fills sharing aural space with distortion that works itself into Bronx cheer territory, organ-like tones that reconstitute themselves as a robotic cha cha cha, and wriggling, atmosphere-piercing sounds, there’s little downtime on the session.

Making a case for the sonic marriage of musique concrète, pure improv and folkloric impulses, the CD not only confirms one composer’s effort as an improviser, but is also a polymorphous listening experience in itself.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Tenderloin: 1. SoMa 2. Cow Hollow 3. Amoeba cleaned me out 4. Tenderloin 5. Tien-I-lou 6. Mission Dolores 7. Castro 8. Laguna 9. Nihonmachi 10. Crooked Lombard 11. Left Luggage 12. Presidio 13. Yerba

Personnel: Tenderloin: Dave Tucker (guitar and electronics); Ernesto Diaz-Infante (amplified acoustic guitar); Danielle DeGruttola (cello, electric cello*); Damon Smith (bass); Scott R. Looney ([except #11] real-time laptop processing); Garth Powell (drums, percussion and idiophone)

Track Listing: Impro: 1. Sur le contraste 2. Sur la pulsation 3. Sur le continu 4. Sur le minimum 5. Sur le rythme

Personnel: Impro: Noël Akchoté (guitar and objects); Luc Ferrari (piano and objects); Roland Auzet (percussion and objects)