April 12, 2023

Quartet: Quartet: Trio
Balance Point Acoustics bpa2cd4

Accustoming themselves to the demands of electro-acoustic improvisations, six Boston area players create three separate configurations for individual responses. Multi-media artist Andrew Neumann using the Buchla music easel’s oscillators, touch pads and circuits is a constant on all tracks of this two-CD set. All of the first disc deals with his interaction with peripatetic bassist Damon Smith, who has played with improvisers in the US and Europe; guitarist Sandy Ewen who has often recorded with Smith; and trumpeter Graham/Forbes who has recorded with synthesizer player Cecilia Lopez. Newman and Smith are present on the three extended tracks that make up most of Disc Two, joined by cellist Junko Fujiwara and percussionist Eric Rosenthal, who has worked with Mat Maneri. Only Neumann, Graham and Rosenthal are on the set’s brief coda.

The almost 26½ “qbi” on the second disc gives the most concentrated yet extended variant of what the Newman-Smith- Fujiwara- Rosenthal quartet achieves. Unlike the other quartet where he’s the only string player, Smith maintains the dynamic pulse in the face of Neumann’s drones, wave form shudders and watery voltage and Rosenthal’s pops and hard ruffs, allowing Fujiwara’s more formalized glissandi to further decorate the interface. Without breaking the continuum the bassist’s sul tasto swipes thicken at the same time as the drummer’s press rolls do likewise, presenting broken octave intensify despite stretched cello stops and the easel’s oscillated wriggles. Detouring into wood-rending intensity at the same time as he maintains the narrative’s linear flow,  Smith makes space for the machine’s burbling drone and the cello’s slices and stops. But by the finale he marshals the cellist to join him in producing thickened string stops that not only signal the conclusion, but relate to the harmonized textures which began the track. That configuration also gives the bassist space to emphasize on other tracks his deeper and darker string pulses and echoing variations. Meanwhile it’s his abrasive string slides which set the scene for the Neumann/Smith/Forbes/ Ewen improvisations.

On “qa1” these woody, angled arco strokes meet Buchla squeals and mechanized drones to set up Forbes’ portamento theme exploration which ascends to dog-whistle-like shrieks and descends to hand-muted plunger tones. As the brass line is converted into open-horn emphasis with Reveille-like bugling, it’s Smith’s thick pacing which slows down the backing to emphasize the trumpeter’s residual melodic brassiness. Neumann’s buzzing oscillations, as well as Ewen’s string twangs and Smith’s shuddering strokes logically join the trumpeter’s extended technique which encompass mouthpiece kisses, tongue smears and whistling peeps. But it doesn’t disguise Graham’s allegiance to more lyrical and Jazz-like conventions. The characteristic instance of this occurs in the introduction to “qa4”, where before he detours into half-valve expressions, the trumpeter outputs an open horn Bebop line. Despite that percussive Buchla clanks and tone shakes and rugged sul tasto swipes from Smith intensify the underling wave form drone. And this fragment/totality alternation continues for the remainder of the track. Consisting of guitar string flanges, almost impenetrable double bass stops and grace notes from the trumpeter, broken octave horizontal elaborations finally situate Neumann’s knob-twisting modulations into a concentrated final section which joins timbres as much as it judders them.

Bending an electronic instrument’s textures so that they fit in with expanded techniques from  acoustic instruments’ production is this session’s achievement.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. Qa1 2. Qa2 3. Qa3 4. Qa4 5. Qa5 CD2: 1. Qb1 2. Qb2 3. Qb3 4. T1

Personnel: Forbes Graham (trumpet); Sandy Ewen (guitar and objects): Junko Fujiwara (cello); Damon Smith (bass); Eric Rosenthal (drums and percussion) and Andrew Neumann (Buchla music easel)