John Edwards / Augustí Fernández / Liba Villavecchia / Peter Jacquemyn / David Chiesa / Joan Saura / Lê Quan Ninh

January 27, 2003

Trio Local +

Dewdrop Recordings DDR 001

The + in the title is intentional. It’s literally a plus sign, for this CD features three of Barcelona, Spain’s most accomplished improvisers collaborating with French, German and British improvisers.

A meeting of minds — and fingers — this fine CD shows that Iberian improvisers can undoubtedly hold their own with players with more advanced scenes. However, it should be stressed that Trio Local, which has been together since the mid-1990s is a Catalonian rather than a Spanish group. In the northeast and near the Pyrenees, Catalonia like Quebec in Canada, sees itself as distinct from the rest of Spain. Harsher and more abrasive than their southern counterparts, Catalonians also have a history of intellectualism, organization and progressive politics. It was this area that held out against Francisco Franco’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War and relations between Barcelona and the capital, Madrid, are always a bit distant.

So it’s no surprise that go-for-broke improvisation has taken hold in that city. Best known of the players is pianist Augustì Fernández, who brings a distinct New music ethos to his playing. Within the half-decade he has recorded with such non-local experimenters as Americans, bassist William Parker and drummer Susie Ibarra plus British saxophonist Evan Parker. Sampler player Joan Saura has written music for theatre, television and dance and is also a member of the European Improvisation Orchestra with the likes of British guitarist Tim Hodgkinson. Saxophonist Liba Villavecchia, who studied at Boston’s New England Conservatory, is part of the Improvisers of Barcelona Association which organizes concerts and an annual festival plus keeping together a large orchestra.

On its own, Trio Local can hold its own with any other electroacoustic aggregation, perhaps because eof its unique instrumentation. Saura’s sampler can provide the percussive underpinning when needed or the sound of an organ or a marimba. Other times it suggests an electrical storm of thunder, cloudbursts and gusting winds. Fernández’s strings with preparations can be turned into those of a celeste, a spinet or a player piano, though those massive octave wide piano chords are all his own. Sometimes the pressure on the keys is such that you can almost hear the strings stretching. Villavecchia brings forth high-pitched, flute-like tones from his mouthpiece, a storm centre of irregular vibrato and deeper tenor saxophone tones often bisected with tongue slaps. Combining his bombshell smears and honks with the jolts produced when the pianist and sampler player fire notes like a machine gun emptying its magazine almost implies a Guernica-like battlefield soundtrack.

Just as international sympathizers were involved in the Civil War, so foreign improvisers are on hand here to interact with the Spaniards. Most distinctive is French percussionist Lê Quan Ninh, who has had long association with other Continental electroacoustic explorers. He matches the Iberian meteorological sampler sounds with some barometrical ones of his own, shaking what sounds like thunder sheets on one track and creating a Gallic hailstorm with drumstick scratching cymbals on the other. Response from his southern neighbors involves unvarying clipping piano notes and some key pops and a bit of circular breathing from the saxist.

Reflecting their countries of origin each of the bassist brings something different to the collaborations. Briton John Edwards, who has matched wits with fellow Englishmen like saxophonist Parker and pianist Veryan Weston isn’t cowed on his two improvisations with the three amigos. Rubbing his hands up and down his strings and banging the bridge with his bow he creates a powerful bass thump, then individual note plucks both in arco and pizzicato mode. The Catalans respond respectively with internal piano explorations, split tones and offcentre reed vibrations and trills and mere tinkles from Saura.

French bassist David Chiesa, who has played with inventive Gallic reedmen like Michel Doneda and Jean Luc Guionnet reverberates screeching sounds from his wire strands. Because of this bells and unselected cymbals seem to be highlighted by the piano and sampler, while Villavecchia rolls out screechy chirps and tongue slaps. Later Fernández’s sneaky patterns resolve themselves into a high frequency Pink Panther-like theme, with just pedal pressure to prove he’s playing a real piano.

German bassist Peter Jacquemyn, who is also a sculptor and works with dancers, is known for his tremendous physicality and work with two bows. But no matter what he throws at the trio, they respond the same way — but in much more cooperative and friendlier fashion — that the Catalonian volunteers faced German panzer divisions in the 1930s. Sometimes attacking his own instrument’s strings with sharp objects Jacquemyn produces an elongated and very low-pitched arco buzz at times and bodybuilder pizzicato stretches elsewhere, that lead to Smurf-like squeaks from his highest strings. The pianist gives no quarter, at first punching out arpeggio chords then producing flat picking strokes from the instrument’s insides. Smeary trills, dissonant growling rumbles plus key pops, tongue slaps and chirps erupt from the saxophone, with the two Catalonians creating in counterpoint to head off the German’s circular runs. Meanwhile, in the background the sampler fuzzes and fizzes.

Needless to say TRIO LOCAL + crackles with excitement. Should your knowledge of Spanish music begin and end with Julio Inglesias or SKETCHES OF SPAIN investigate this disc. Those more familiar with other Continental free improvisations will discover some dazzling work here as well.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. TL+1* 2. TL+2 3. TL+3^ 4. TL+4 5. TL+5# 6. TL+6# 7. TL+7 8. TL+8~ 9. TL+9 10. TL+10*

Personnel: Liba Villavecchia (alto and tenor saxophones); Augustì Fernández (piano); John Edwards#, Peter Jacquemyn^ or David Chiesa~ (bass); Lê Quan Ninh (percussion)*; Joan Saura (sampler)