Trio de Clarinettes

December 22, 2009

Frémeux & Associés FA 492

Matt Darriau/Patrick Novara/Ismail Lumanovski
Liquid Clarinets
Felmay fy 8150

Austere or ornamented is the way three improvisers on each disc here choose to blend the textures of three woodwinds. Limited only by technique and imagination, the results are equally memorable whether the sounds are skewed towards reserved New music or Mediterranean festive rhythms. Cunningly switching among many members of the clarinet family, the French Trio de Clarinettes avoids the timbral sameness that would result from too many peeping clarinet glissandi or harmonized woodwind runs. Instead undertones, partials and echoes are exposed as often as strident trills, puffed vibrations and highly stylized flutter tonguing. Each trio member has extensive improvised and otherwise background. Jean-Marc Foltz, who has concretized with l’Accroche Note, la Musikfabrik NRW and l’ Ensemble Intercontemporain also plays jazz with pianist Stéphan Oliva and bassist Bruno Chevillon among others. Sylvain Kassap is one of the founders of the Laborintus ensemble which creates music for film, theatre and dance and has improvised with bassist Didier Levallet and percussionist Günter “Baby” Sommer. Founder of an earlier version of this clarinet trio, Armand Angster has improvised with the likes of bassist Barre Phillips and drummer Paul Lovens and more formally with, among others, l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the New Ensemble of Amsterdam and London’s Music Project.

To get an idea of the trio’s range, compare the Foltz-composed “Loops” with Kassap’s “Désert”. The later is bleak, nearly atonal and segmented, extended with drawn-out silences, split by piccolo clarinet whistles and completed with divided horn reflux that eventually converges into moderato unison lines. On the other hand, the former is supple and meandering, layered with bubbling resonations and snorting multi-part harmonies. Angster’s bass clarinet solo moves from altissimo to moderato, squealing and reed-biting as contrabass clarinet snorts and tongue slaps plus high-pitched reed coloration from the other two comment on the proceedings.

Often diaphragm or finger-vibrated, three-part harmonizes throughout are alternately fragmented and unbroken with a minority of glissandi used. More frequently lockstep chalumeau snorting or lyrical, coloratura patterning are more certain strategies. However Foltz sometimes upsets the strict tone division by blowing two separate but complementary lines simultaneously through two different woodwinds. A track such as his “No no no” features a lyrical and mid-range two-horn variation in its centre, while Kassap’s bass clarinet growls. This follows the rhythmic rebound from low-pitched timbres that unite a splayed and splintered exposition, initially torn apart with constant reed buzzing and quicksilver tongue fluttering. The finale splinters and dissolves the nearly concentrated tones once again.

The Trio de Clarinettes usually avoids interaction that is too jaunty, staccato or super-fast, but in many ways that’s the modus operandi of the Liquid Clarinets. Supported by the multi-percussion of Italian Francesco Manna and the accordion of Greek Dimos Vougioukas, the three clarinetists specialize in airs influenced by the dance rhythms and joyousness of European traditions that take in Eastern-European Klezmer, Greek Rebetika and Italian Tarantella.

Prominent in different fields, Liquid Clarinets came together after its members first concretized compatibly at Turin’s Gong Festival. Brooklyn-based, Indiana native Matt Darriau, for instance, is known through membership in the Klezmatics and Frank London’s Klezmer Brass plus his own Paradox Trio. French-born Italian-citizen Patrick Novara is a founder member of the Tri Muzike group and created the clarinet parts for many of playwright Moni Ovadia’s productions. Macedonian-born, but U.S.-based, Ismail Lumanovski is in the New York Gypsy All-Stars Band and the Juilliard School Symphony Orchestra.

A party and dance-oriented, rather than recital or chamber ensemble, Liquid Clarinets brings an unstoppable beat – via Manna’s cajon, frame drums, bodhran, darbuka and dumbek – plus a sense of fun to the eight tracks here. But the bent and elasticized notes blended and vibrated tones and overriding staccato pacing only add to the band members’ overall musicianship.

“Tarantella Montemaranese” may be exactly as advertised, with swishing tambourines, bravado bellow pumping and harmonic reed trilling that suggest visions of a gigantic accordion. But as the clarinetists solo in round-robin fashion, the outcome takes on cutting-contest implications. With Manna sounds a steady, jazz-like pace, all three indulge in tongue-fluttering and note-bending, with the melody soon advancing fortissimo and the shrilling unison coda performed double tempo.

On the other hand, the wailing “Uskudar/Tsifteteli Theme” begins nasal, almost Oriental and with melancholy overtones. Following Lumanovski slurring output however, the exposition adopts a Mediterranean lilt, followed by a romantic interlude as mid-range clarinet trills float on top of lush accordion glissandi and drum pops. Darriau’s wide-bore overblowing references Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem – which is based on a Romanian folk song – followed by his bagpipe-like tone-splattering. When the dumbek’s shuffle rhythm and pirouetting accordion runs sway the variations back towards the Middle East, the tune ends with contrapuntal reed pumps.

While no one would confuse this trio with the individualistic Trio de Clarinettes, the Liquid Clarinets don’t shy away from original tunes either. Darriau’s “Ebony Counterpoint” is a hora-like interlude featuring clarinet trills stacked on top of one another, each vibrating and snaking in-and-out of the massed harmonies. Eventually, as the narrative moves along andante and staccato, the reed output divides, with one player producing crying split tones, another mid-range glissandi peeps and the third a pedal-point bottom buzz. Following more fralicher phraseology, the polyphonic crescendo gives way to dumbek slaps, followed by more vamping horns in a massed reed finale.

Although the charming and boisterous Liquid Clarinets may be more lively and easier to appreciate on first hearing, each of these triple reed groups can be commended for their approach. Both CDs are memorable and each group has worked out an appropriate, non-clichéd game plan for the use of multiple reed tones.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Liquid: 1. Aegean Suite: A. Greisher Tantz B. Tatavlianos Syrtos C. Galician Sher D. Yoshke Fort Avek 2. Tarantella Montemaranese 3. Liquid Clarinet 4. Ivailovsko Horo 5. Uskudar/Tsifteteli Theme 6. Salita al Monte Vergine 7. Ebony Counterpoint 8. Darriau’s Doina/Mayn Tayere Odessa

Personnel: Liquid: Matt Darriau (clarinet, Bulgarian gaida, kaval, faux clarinet and bass clarinet); Patrick Novara (clarinet, Turkish clarinet, musette and bagpipes); Ismail Lumanovski (clarinet); Dimos Vougioukas (accordion) and Francesco Manna (cajon, frame drums, bodhran, darbuka and dumbek)

Track Listing: Ramdam: 1. Ploc 2. Ramdam 3. Cloches-tubes 4. Loops 5. Dune de Glaces 6. Désert 7. Choral 8. Firmin 9. No no no 10. Yu-bin-ha-ga-ki 11. Épilogue

Personnel: Ramdam: Jean-Marc Foltz (clarinet and bass clarinet); Sylvain Kassap (clarinet, piccolo clarinet and bass clarinet) and Armand Angster, (clarinet, bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet)