More Low than Low Quintet

July 18, 2023

Under the Ocean is the Place
JDC 003

Oğuz Büyükberber/Tobias Klein
Live At The Roze Tanker
Trytone TT559-092

Confirming the versatility and adaptability of low pitches to profound improvised music are two ensembles that locate themselves deep within the bass clef. First up is the long-running bass clarinet duo of Turk Oğuz Büyükberber and German Tobias Klein, who have been based in Amsterdam for years and involved in many bands there. Under the Ocean is the Place has the same number of bass clarinetists, Italians Marco Colonna and Mimo Cogliandro, while wallowing in further bottom tones from bassists Giovanni Maier from Italy and Slovenians Žiga Golob and Matjaž Bajc. There’s a bit of misinformation in these descriptions since all seven players manage to leap the scale enough in their playing to add more tones than the expected basement-level ones.

Büyükberber’s and Klein’s three live improvisations for instance balance squeaks and tongue slapping with concentrated drones from the duo’s first notes and go on from there. Sometimes in unity, sometimes with broken chords and frequently in counterpoint, the two warble, trill and flutter tones forward, mixing high-pitched lyricism with stolid lugubriousness that inflate to the point where one outputs clarion microtones and the other a deepened ostinato. All manner of split tones, snarls, snorts semi-tones and brief stops are on call throughout, with both contributing to accelerated pitch transformations and tempo changes to the extent that some clarion quavers start to resemble spiccato fiddle runs. “What Happens If You Look Up When Walking Backwards?”, the final track, thickens the ongoing shrills and snuffles to a simple melody before a high-pitched conclusion. However it’s the mid-section “Crown Shyness” which expresses the most tonal diversity. With round robin flutters and sighs the duo surges to a snappy allegro tempo with treble accordion-like suggestions before splitting as one reed hurtles up the scale and the other projects wide honks below.

Adding three double bass players to two bass clarinetists on the other live-recorded CD intensifies basement tones into a concentrated drone. Nevertheless arco strokes and pizzicato slaps are divided among the three bassists, with tremors moving up the scale as Colonna and Cogliandro equivalently surge from chalumeau consolidation to clarion bites and squeaks. Here too the clarinetists alternate between snorts to shrills as the bassists’ rubs often harmonize with the reeds. All four selection were composed by Bajc, who has worked with the likes of Zlatko Kaučič. However the arrangements involve both instrumental groups in transformative motifs and tension-release affiliations. Strings twangs and strum on “Cerklajnsku Cpiva I” for instance, create a layered dialogue among the bassists and centre the undulating exposition. Simultaneously reed output is divided between snake chamber-like trills from one bass clarinetist and widening mellow slurs from the other. Keeping the narratives linear the clarinetists maintain reed liveliness even as Bajc, Golob and Maier emphasize tropes such as wood-rending screams and sul tasto rubs.

The concluding “Ulika” shifts the paradigm slightly since it’s infuse with swatch of Klezmer-like melancholy. Expressed by vibrating string buzzing and later stentorian string tolling, sliding textures from the clarinets, in broken octave output one half-step pitch apart, adds to the mood as it evolves from andante to andante. Resolution arrives when the initial head is recapped and the subsequent concentrated push forward is curtailed by an appropriate single bass thump. In the right hands and mouths the lowest tone can be compounded into a functional and accomplished experience as these discs demonstrate.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. June, July or January? 2. Crown Shyness 3, What Happens If You Look Up When Walking Backwards?

Personnel: Live: Oguz Büyükberber and Tobias Klein (bass clarinets)

Track Listing: Low: 1. Lower Than Low 2. Cerklajnsku Cpiva I 3. Cerklajnsku Cpiva II 4. Ulika

Personnel: Low: Marco Colonna and Mimo Cogliandro (bass clarinets) and Matjaž Bajc, Žiga Golob and Giovanni Maier (basses)