Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra

August 1, 2023

Flying a Kite on an Empty Beach
New Jazz and Improvised Music NEWJAiM15

King Übü Örchestrü 2021
FMR CD 653-0822

Unorthodox Jukebox O
Unorthodox Jukebox O
Wide Ear Records WER 047

Miguel Angel Crozzoli and the Stangement Society
Radio Pulsars
Barefoot Records No #

The lure of larger groups still captures the imagination of many sophisticated improvisers. Even though the breathe of expressions can be more rewarding, working out strategies for many individuals is dicier than with smaller configurations. Whether interpreting scores or creating outright free improvisations the challenge is met or exceeded by groups like those here. A cheerful memorial – if such a thing can said to exist – the newest disc by the long-constituted Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra (GIO) is dedicated to the late bassist George Lyle, a GIO founding members. During five extended compositions, the 42-member orchestra and subsets of it celebrate Lyle’s life and musical contributions with music that’s more significant than sad. With a full complement of reeds, brass, percussion, strings and voices, various aspects of the GIO’s interpretations are emphasized on each track. The commemorative salutes encompass light and dark textures, boisterous, understated and moderated tones, a collection of pitches and tempos as well as melodic or mutilated sounds.

Along the way themes can bounce or drag, be stuffed with split tones and speedy irregular vibrations or include extended silent intervals as distanced timbral impulses amalgamate into a linear whole. Vocals, mostly wordless, deflect to whistles, warbles or wheezes, with melancholy expressed more directly by drum clanks, strings jabs and layered multiphonics that pivot to upfront bel canto lyricism or harsh Celtic growls. Diverse pairings or multiple combinations are also put to their best use. “Shuffle” to take one example, evolves from an uncomplicated keyboard clip and drum shuffle introduction to split-tone ruptures from tenor saxophonist Graeme Wilson doubled with restrained tonguing from one of the alto saxophonists, with the theme attaining a linear groove via expanded pops from Corey Mwamba’s vibraphone and flutters from flutist Emma Roche. Meanwhile electronic drones, concentrated glissandi from the six string players and barely-heard vocal groans and yodels move the exposition steadily upwards. Squeezed soprano sax timbres matched with measured drum beats introduce the climax as Fergus Kerr’s heraldic French horn calls suggest the proper send off for the missed musician. Reflecting a Lyle interest, a Thelonious Monk sample with piano and tenor sax upfront is hard on “Another Room”, although the main focus comes from the contrast between power drumming from the three percussionist and building-shaking irregular blasts and smears from the saxophonists, as vibes and strings add some decorates fripperies. Even “A Sonic Meditation for George Lyle”, with aviary calls from the reeds, bell-plinking from the percussionists, horn puffs, and even some pseudo-ragtime from one of the pianists at the end. These asides overcome funereal piano pacing interlocking solemn voices and Gabriel-like trumpet finality from Robert Henderson to confirm that meditation doesn’t have to focus on sorrow. Its’s now obvious that Lyle received an appropriate and musically enlightened send off.

Putting aside compositions and paring down the ensemble to 11 musicians the two performances on ROI highlight the reincarnation of the King Übü Örchestrü (KUO), which was originally active from 1983-2003. Mixing former and new members KUO create pure free music, which at points makes the musical vessel a little rudderless as the result eddies and flows while searching for destinations. This is particularly noticeable on “ROI 3”, the slightly shorter first set. With worldly improvisers on board there’s no shortage of extended technical wizardry. They include spiccato string buzzes and pizzicato plucks from violinist Philipp Wachsmann, cellist Alfred Zimmerlin bassist Hans Schneider; bites and doits from sopranino saxophonist Stefan Keune; whizzing oscillations from the electronics of Wachsmann and guitarist Erhard Hir;, snarls and smears from trombonist Matthias Muche, rumbling flatulence from tubaist Melvyn Poore; wooden pops and ruffs from Paul Lytton’s percussion; heraldic and portamento smears from cornetist Mark Charig; and half-valve inner tube quivers from Axel Dörner’s trumpet. At the same time this KUO version also features the soundsinging of Phil Minton, which permeates the tracks. Weaving among brass farts, reed flattement and every manner of plucks, straight bowing and sawing from the strings Minton’s voices range from operatic basso to rodent squeaks, encompassing yelps, lip burbles, mumbles and whistles.

Still with all the talent involved and all the effort put into sonic invention, the piece is profoundly disorganized with little coherence or connection. Luckily the band makes up for this on “ROI 4” with a 360 degree turn from incoherence to inspiration. From the heavy-duty gong resonation that opens “ROI 4” everyone’s game accelerates. As an undulating polyphonic exposition diffuses with into concentrated mass of brassy grace notes, trilling reed dabs, and mountain guide-like tuba blasts, Minton’s bedlam cries and constipated growls are integrated into forward motion. Shifts from the pointillist tone integration gives pace for a muted trumpet obbligato, a straight-ahead but pressurized violin slice and more upfront percussion rattles and clangs. A protracted silence in the final sequence is shattered by Dörner forcing toneless breaths through his horn and finally a multiphonic group explosion where every KUO members seems to playing at once as the piece reaches a zenith of sul tasto sweeps, brass smears and crackling electronics. The climax squeezes sounds away to nothingness.

Despite featuring a complement of 15 musicians the Swiss Unorthodox Jukebox O (UJO) expresses its three instant compositions with such shattered and individual timbres and at such ambiguous and near-silent levels that it makes the KUO seem a twin to Stan Kenton’s bombastic big band of the 1950s. This isn’t a criticism though for the idea is to follow how the instrumental dribs and dabs from each player, contrast, connect and challenge one another during the journey to moments of amalgamation. Pointillist scratches and pops from three percussionists evolve at the same languid pace as pressurized and strumming chords from one, two or three of the band’s keyboardists. These developing structures are tightrope-walker balanced with jabs from Anna-Kaisa Meklin’s viola da Gamba and Kaspar von Grünigen’s double bass that also vibrate beside trumpeter Marco von Orelli’s strained and squeezed brassy breaths. Although each track is a standalone sequence, a sense of building up to a muted crescendo is a telling motif during the latter half of “Kreise”, the disc’s concluding track. At that point extended polyphony encompasses extended shrills, crackles and space-ship-launching sounds from Eric Ruffing’s synthesizer and Volker Böhm’s electronics, kettle drum wallops, sul tasto pressure from the three string players and carefully modulated upwards keyboard textures. As these singular jabs and dabs concentrate to move horizontally, Jaronas Scheurer’s split tone reed squeezes and toneless air breathed through von Orelli’s horn are heard over the interlude’s top layer. The sequence eventually introduces the almost unobtrusive finale of electronic gurgles and reed buzzes.

The voice of Susana Nunes figures into the four-section interpretation of Radio Pulsars, Copenhagen-based Argentinian composer Miguel Angel Crozzoli’s meditation on creating synergies between science and music. But except for brief interludes that include words, her contribution is only one component of the sonic mix. Following Crozzoli’s conduction the 12 players initially move in a linear fashion to gradually elevate tempos and pitches, reaching an initial climax during the introductory “Wandering off into the Night”. The build-up, but tension-lessening prologue layers spiccato jabs from the four-member string section, voltage whooshes and burbles from Valeria Miracapillo’s electronics, gurgles and whistles from the five-person reed section with the lyric soprano voice. From that point on contrapuntal development continues to expand as the woodwind strategy encompasses shrills and spetrofluctuation from staccato intermingling projected by the three saxophones, clarinet and bassoon. A warbling duet between Nunes’ melisma and Barbara Kammer’s viola strokes while Aurelijus Užameckis’ and Asger Thomsen’s double bass’ splaying variations create pressurized counterpoint. Multi-tracking the voice means that Nunes become a faux vocal group on “We dance, we gleam, we yearn”. But even here the articulated sentiments of love and yearning are saved from honeyed mush by interjecting abrasive bites from Albert Cirera’s soprano saxophone, Calum Builder alto saxophone and Nana Pi and Jon Sensmeier’s tenor saxophones. By the finale that’s both soaring and straight-ahead, oscillating clanks, reed vamps and vocalized trills confirm both the human and cosmic elements of Crozzoli’s suite. Radio Pulsars may not literally reflect the wonders of black holes and dark energy, but it’s fine music nonetheless.

Overall, taking advantage of amplified timbres and phonics the use of larger ensemble provide composers and improvisers unique and multiple ways in which to express their ideas.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Flying: 1. Belmont Street 2. For GL 3. Another Room 4. Shuffle 5. A Sonic Meditation for George Lyle

Personnel: Flying: Robert Henderson (trumpet); Sam Beagles (trombone); Fergus Kerr (French horn); Javier Paxarino (soprano saxophone); Sue McKenzie, Raymond MacDonald (soprano and alto saxophones, piano, voice); Graeme Wilson (tenor saxophone); Emma Roche (flute); Alister Spence (piano); Gerry Rossi (piano, bass, electronics); Jim McEwan (Rhodes, guitar); Jer Reid, George Burt, Neil Davidson (guitar); Kyalo Searle-Mbullu (guitar, electronics); Peter Nicholson (cello); Atza Muramatsu (cello, electronics); Armin Sturm, Una MacGlone (bass); Ken Slaven (strings); Catriona McKay (clarsach); Corey Mwamba (vibraphone); Rick Bamford, Stuart Brown, Fritz Welch (drums, percussion); Adam Linson, Laura Kavanaugh, Ian Birse (electronics); Anne Pajunen (voice, viola, electronics); Maggie Nicols, Cliona Cassidy (voice)

Recorded Sunday 27th November 2016 at CCA Glasgow

Track Listing: ROI: 1. 1. First Set: Roi 3 2. Second Set: Roi 4

Personnel: ROI: Mark Charig (cornet); Axel Dörner (trumpet); Matthias Muche (trombone); Melvyn Poore (tuba); Stefan Keune (sopranino saxophone); Erhard Hirt (guitar, electronics); Philipp Wachsmann (violin, electronics); Alfred Zimmerlin (cello); Hans Schneider (bass); Paul Lytton (percussion); Phil Minton (voice)

Track Listing: Unorthodox: 1. 01 47.560, 7.593 I 20190315 I 19:90 2. Marey Cary 3. Kreise

Personnel: Unorthodox: Marco von Orelli (trumpet); Jaronas Scheurer (alto saxophone); Marina Tantanozi (flute); Christoph Schiller (spinet); Alvin Schwaar (keyboards); Lukas Huber (keyboards, electronics); Giancarlo Nicolai (lute); Anna-Kaisa Meklin (viola da Gamba); Kaspar von Grünigen (bass); Antonia Ravens (harp); Eric Ruffing (synthesizer); Benjamin Brodbeck, Michael Anklin (drums); João Carlos Pacheco (percussion); Volker Böhm (electronics)

Track Listing: Radio: 1. Wandering off into the Night 2. Whispering softly into the stars 3. We dance, we gleam, we yearn 4. Until the end of our Time

Personnel: Radio: Albert Cirera (soprano saxophone); Calum Builder (alto saxophone); Nana Pi, Jon Sensmeier (tenor saxophone); Jonas Engel (clarinet); Sara Bulili (bassoon); Barbara Kammer (viola); Ida Nørby (cello); Aurelijus Užameckis, Asger Thomsen (bass); Valeria Miracapillo (electronics); Susana Nunes (voice); Miguel Angel Crozzoli (conduction)