Giancarlo Schiaffini/Harri Sjöström/Sergio Armaroli

January 11, 2021

Duos & Trios
Leo Records CD LR 892

Conny Bauer/Matthias Bauer/Dag Magnus Narvesen
The Gift
NoBusiness Records NBLP 135

Trombone-oriented, but not trombone centred, these trio discs demonstrate the versatility of the sackbut as well as depicting its synergy with other distinctive instruments. Yet the trombones played by veteran European Free musicians are placed in antithetical sonic situations.

Known for his work in the bands Zentralquartett and Doppelmoppel, German Conny Bauer is joined on The Gift by his brother bassist Matthias Bauer as well as Norwegian drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen who has worked with many musicians, including Finnish saxophonist Harri Sjöström, who is featured on Duos & Trios. Someone who has played with Cecil Taylor as well as Matthias Bauer, Sjöström’s duo partner is Italian vibraphonist Sergio Armaroli, associated with Alvin Curran and others. Veteran trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini makes this a trio on three tracks. Schiaffini, who like Armaroli moves between notated and improvised music, was part of the Italian Instabile Orchestra.

A three-track live set The Gift consists of sophisticated rhythm section arrangements encompassing guitar-like strums or fluid spiccato runs from M. Bauer, plus pinpointed resonation or cymbal clacks from Narvesen as scene-setters for cursive brass streams from C. Bauer. Twice the length of the first two tracks combined, the concluding “GIFT III” is a refinement of the timbral strategies that precede it. Explored are both story-telling and strident motifs. From the top, descriptive string frails and inventive percussion clatter set up expressive trombone tones that mix grit and grace. Soon intensity spikes as vigorous double tonguing from C. Bauer descends in pitch, backed by allegro double bass pacing and bell ringing, climaxing as brass dissonance and sul pontcello bowing harmonize. With the slide equivalent of a dipping limbo squat, trombone snarls become weightier and wider alongside tremolo bass pulsations until Narvesen’s gong and triangle slaps presage a brass tour-de-force. As drum beats shuffle and bass twangs resound, C. Bauer creates a ‘bone doppelganger as the final sequence. Alternating between sequential airy squeaks and gutbucket bellows he creates two brass personas and completes the section with an extended terminal slur.

With Armaroli’s punchy vibe reverberations and Sjöström’s sinuous tongue fluttering the other trio’s music is airier but as intense. That’s because on the two briefer tracks the vibist’s savory textures usually consist of understated plinks and sprinkles with narrative firmness arising from the trombonist’s capillary shakes and slurs and the saxophonist’s sputters and slides that eventually harmonize.

The more than 22½ minute “Trio Two” stands alone. Challenging at first as Schiaffini’s plunger emphasis turns to full gutbucket affiliations, the outpouring faces Sjöström’s split tone whistles and strained theme variations before evolving in broken octaves. Accommodating separate lines from the bottom, Armaroli’s rustling undulations keep the piece moving as the trombonist’s squeaks and snarls elevated tones and the saxophonist sputters a staccato a horizontal staccato rejoinder. Before Armaroli signals the ending with an extended torrent of metal bar hues, the two horn players attain a polyphonic climax of animated timbres, each more elevated than the next.

Connective, not reductive the nine remaining vibraphone-saxophone duets provide lessons in textural originality prodded by two treble-affiliated instruments. As Armaroli’s patterning maintains a steadying forward motion, Sjöström’s fluid solos move from delicate flute-like peeps to sprawling reed bites and jagged snarls. Prestissimo, “Duet Seven” is notable for a hard swing groove, broken up with numerous theme variations. Meanwhile the extended “Duet Six” is uniquely dissonant, with motor-driven scrapes from the vibes and inner-tube-like air from the saxophone twisting and twittering as it takes on near-electric-acoustic inferences. Finally multiphonic and multi-colored circular breathing from the saxophonist develops alongside gorgeous harmonies from the vibraphone, leading to a high-pitched but never harsh finale.

In trio form both groups create unique integrated programs; with the duo tracks are played with the same high standards.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Gift: 1. GIFT I 2. GIFT II 3. GIFT III

Personnel: Gift: Conny Bauer (trombone); Matthias Bauer (bass) and Dag Magnus Narvesen (drums)

Track Listing: Duo: 1. Trio One*2, Duet One 3. Duet Two 4. Duet Three 5. Duet Four 6. Duet Five 7. Duet Six 8. Duet Seven 9. Duet Eight 10. Duet Nine 11. Trio Three* 12. Trio Two*

Personnel: Duo: Giancarlo Schiaffini (trombone); Harri Sjostrom (soprano and sopranino saxophones) and Sergio Armaroli (vibraphone)