Jeff Arnal / Dietrich Eichmann / Gordon Beeferman / Seth Misterka

July 19, 2004

Rara Avis

Generate 09


The Temperature Dropped Again

Leo CD LR 390

Georgia-born, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based drummer Jeff Arnal has organized international connections since the late 1990s. These two discs provide an opportunity to compare his work with two fellow Americans and a German composer.

Both have much to recommend them, but, although both were recorded at about the same time, overall the duo session has more going for it than the trio CD. THE TEMPERATURE DROPPED AGAIN matches Arnal’s percussion with the piano of Berlin-based composer Dietrich Eichmann. Although billed a meeting between a “classical composer and a jazz/improv drummer”, Eichmann early on studied with Alexander von Schlippenbach and besides writing straight compositions has interacted with improvisers like reedists Wolfgang Fuchs and Lars Scherzberg. Here both percussionist and pianists communicate in the same language.

So do Arnal and alto and baritone saxophonist Seth Misterka and pianist Gordon Beeferman. Unfortunately the electric instrument which Beeferman, who is also an orchestral composer, uses on RARA AVIS lacks the subtlety and suppleness of Eichmann’s acoustic piano. Furthermore, the saxist, best known for his membership in Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance Ensemble, has a tendency to overuse his extended techniques, overloading his side of the triangular equation.

“Paraphernalia”, for instance, is mostly his show with a straightforward alto line that gradually flutter tongue into sharp, kazoo-like shattered reed tones that undulate around the theme. Meanwhile Beeferman’s piano clipping turns to the sort of whiny and smeary glissandos that only a plugged in piano would produce. Arnal sticks to behind the beat bounces, paradiddles and side taps.

Misterka’s mostly a cappella solo on the nearly eight-minute “Conspirators”, turns from sharp arpeggios and honks to harsh, hocketing lines, prompting rolls and flams from the drummer and intermittent pressurized tones from the pianist. As these notes collide rather than meld, the reedist takes off on a shrill reed exposition that mixes ragged split tones with flutter tonguing and swirls, and finally altissimo whistles. As Beeferman drags broken chord clusters crab-like across the keys, Arnal jumbles the pulse with rim shots and snare beats. Eventually the piece nearly collapses, only to right itself with a combination of an irregular Africanized backbeat from the drummer and burbling, Bronx cheer noises from the saxman.

Whinnying trills and pecking tongue splats working their way up in pitch, and split tones are Misterka’s contributions to “Recombinations”. Facing this are resonating rim shots from the drums and single note tremolo accents with rolling arpeggios and strummed glisses from the electric keyboard. And so it goes.

As a showcase of the extended techniques possible from these three instruments, which also includes procedures that allow the drummer to reverberate tones from his floor toms and the saxist to squeal like a loose door hinge, the CD is unequalled. But cohesion is lacking. Some, however, may not miss it, concentrating instead on the stimulation from the ride.

Eichmann and Arnal are more attuned, probably because the pianist often plays as percussively as the drummer. For example, “…durch offene Grenzen”, the CD’s more than 16 minute ultimate track and magnum opus, ends in a riot of piano extensions into the rhythmic function. Ranging over the upper portion of the piano with polyrhythmic harmonic facings, Eichmann soon turns to quicker broken chording and flashing octaves echoed by harpsichord-like arpeggio syncopation on the inner strings. For his part, Arnal’s response to the keyboard incursion into the beat function is twofold. At points he busily shakes little instruments and bashes the bass drums, at others he alternates tinny ride cymbal brush stings with rumbling pressure on the snares. Soon, it’s almost impossible to ascribe the rhythm to one instrument or the other.

Earlier, as on “Radio set”, the pianist moves from and dampening the action as he hits each note, to dragging out timbres on the copper bass strings. The harpsichord-like sound is created by unbalancing the tension by pressing against the capotes, and increasing the speed so the speaking length produces extra overtones, vibrating wider polyphonic sounds. For his part, the drummer turns intermittent snare thwacks to patterns on the cowbell, claves and sizzle cymbal.

More notably on “L’écureuil ivrogne” — the drunken squirrel — Arnal vibrates a pattern on a smaller drum so that it sounds like a non-resonating marimba. As he continues, the textures produced could as easily come from a hollow glass tube as anything in a drummer’s regular kit. While all this is going on, the pianist provides cushioning patterns with bellicose left handed accents, short fantasias of undulating timbres and sprightly bounces.

Throughout, hitherto unexplored parts of the piano innards such as the fallback are manipulated so that Eichmann can create splashing single notes with their metallic vibrations to counter Arnal’s more overt percussion attacks from clacking wood blocks, resonating ride cymbals and other parts of the beat buffet .

Someone to be reckoned with on either side of the Atlantic, expect to hear Arnal’s name spread far past Brooklyn over the next little while.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Rara: 1. Dust 2. Conspirators 3. Hive 4. Lost World 5. Basement Scientist 6. Paraphernalia 7. Allucidation 8. Sirens 9. Recombinations 10. Isthmus 11 Screw Creature

Personnel: Rara: Seth Misterka (alto and baritone saxophones); Gordon Beeferman (electric piano); Jeff Arnal (percussion)

Track Listing: Temperature: The Temperature Dropped Again: 1. Swing dribble – Pointing north 2. Pendulum 3. Bermuda Triangle boat trip 4. Half pint 5. Radio set /Four French Apparitions: 6. L’appat 7. La Méduse 8. L’écureuil ivrogne 9. Le désir froid / For Benno Trautmann: 10. …durch offene Grenzen

Personnel: Temperature: Dietrich Eichmann (piano); Jeff Arnal (percussion)