Günter ‘Baby’ Sommer / Floros Floridis / Akira Ando

April 1, 2012

Melting Game

Jazz Werkstatt JW 101

André Goudbeek/Peter Jacquemyn/Lê Quan Ninh


NotTwo MW 859-2

Putting to rest – perhaps permanently –the old saw that Jazz is a young man’s game, are these two exceptional trio sessions. Each of them feature musicians, who, with the exception of Belgian bassist Peter Jacquemyn, who is 49 and counting, features musicians who will never see 50 again, let alone 20. At the same time each set reaches its sonic zenith in a different way. Uwaga is an unbridled exercise in super-intense Energy Music while Melting Game encompasses 10 compositions which refer as much to the ongoing Jazz tradition as futuristic experimentation.

Showing improvised music’s universality six countries are represented by the same number of players. Veteran percussionist Günter Baby Sommer, 68, is an (East) German, who has played for years with pianist Ulrich Gumpert. On the same CD, bassist Akira Ando, 56, who has worked with everyone from pianist DD Jackson to saxophonist Thomas Borgmann, is Japanese; while Floros Floridis, who is reticent about revealing his age, but has been improvising since the 1980s, most notably with the late bassist Peter Kowald, is Greek. Meanwhile on Uwaga, reedist André Goudbeek, 65, best-known for his stint with the Willem Breuker Kollektief, is Dutch; percussionist Lê Quan Ninh, 51, who has played with just about every experimental musician in the notated and improv world is French; and there’s Jacquemyn, whose playing partners have ranged from clarinetist Theo Jörgensmann to pianist Fred Van Hove.

From a Cracow concert, the 44-minute-plus rendition of “Attention” is the defining performance on the Goudbeek/Jacquemyn/Ninh disc. It’s built up from the top with high-pitched, jittery split tones, plus emphasized growls, tongue flutters and hockets from the saxophonist; string smacks, scrubs and spiccato stretches from the bassist; plus cymbal rubs, clip-clops and drum top squeaks from the percussionist.

As the piece evolves, the interface breaks into tandem duo work, trio communication and solo spots, often a capella. Each trope exposes many textures. At times Jacquemyn’s strokes become more agitated and sul ponticello moving the vector, sometimes meeting the lion’s roar of thunder-sheet shaking from Ninh. Elsewhere his pacing is mellower, bringing out his strings’ low-pitched undertones and just as importantly preventing the trio from figuratively blasting off into outer space. For his part the percussionist reveals a magician’s cupboard full of unexpected sound extensions. There are ratchets, drags, whacks and shrills that resemble a fire alarm; others which create alarm clock-like reverberating ticking; and other beats which demonstrate more variety among rim shots than most drummers produce. As for Goudbeek, sometimes his bass clarinet’s chalumeau register tones create an undulating curtain of intense vibrato, the better to join Jacquemyn’s low-pitched bass-string stretching. Other times, spurred by the bassist’s frenetic vocalizing and juddering bow-angling, Goudbeek’s tongue slaps, strained glossolalia and pressurized throat roughage, go far beyond any saxophone’s expected range. The complicated coda matches walking string pumps from the bassist with a series of descending pants from the reedist like those heard from a dog after a hearty run.

Vocal exhortations are audible on the other CD as well, usually taking the form of encouraging “oh yeahs” from Sommer when one of the players hits a particularly bluesy and commanding note sequence. Often this approval is audible when Floridis masticates some glissandi from his straight clarinet; Ando is slapping his strings; or Sommer is rolling and smacking his own drum tops. On aural evidence, performances like these could convince even the staunchest Dixielander that he’s hearing an undiscovered slab of Classic Jazz: Sommer’s playing resembles that of his namesake Baby Dodds, the reed man channels Baby’s older brother, clarinetist Johnny Dodds, and Ando could be Wellman Braud – New Orleans pioneers all. A prime example of this is “Salpismata”, where the bull fiddler’s expression moves from measured walking to bowing with tough friction; the drummer rumbles and shuffles; and Floridis’ sparkling clarinet lines include andante runs plus off-register squeaks.

Nonetheless, Melting Game isn’t really a Trad Jazz session. Floridis’ bass clarinet snorts and chirps references Eric Dolphy more than any mainstream sound re-creator; while each of the other players is very conversant of the advances and influences that have appeared in improvised music during the past few years. Floridis’ composition “Hora” for instance, is a freer take on the Israeli style of the same name, with his clarinet and Ando’s bowed bass managing to mate the dance’s innate cheerfulness with mournful melodiousness that could have migrated from a Klezmer dirge. Meantime Sommer’s percussion outgrowth adds resonations that resemble those of Andalusian castanets and maracas, with the finale divided between bass drum thumps and flutter tonguing from the reedist. Sommer’s “Inside-Outside-Shout” exposes ruffs, pops and tom-tom patterning that sound more Native American than European. As the drummer vocalizes shaman-like incantations as he plays, the bassist contributes shunted bass string splatters and the reedist frenetic yakety-sax cries

All of these unexpected timbre extensions unfold alongside as many shuffle drum beats, cow bell whacks, muscular bass-string plucks and arco phrasing plus juddering contralto flutters and puffs from the reedist as you’d find on most standard Jazz dates. This makes Melting Game as impressive an outing of modern post-Bop, as Uwaga is an unmatched and example of unalloyed Free Jazz.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Melting: 1. Hymnus 2. Shuffle To WH 3. Hora 4. Inside-Outside-Shout 5. For Kim 6. 2:22 7. Blues For P.K. 8. Flageolet For P.H.9. Salpismata 10. Goze

Personnel: Melting: Floros Floridis (alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Akira Ando (bass) and Günter Baby Sommer (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Uwaga: 1. Attention! 2. Pasop!

Personnel: Uwaga: André Goudbeek (alto saxophone and bass clarinet); Peter Jacquemyn (bass and voice) and Lê Quan Ninh (percussion)