River People

December 27, 2022

Sol Expression
Chap Chap Records CPCD-024

Pebbles & Pearls
Sporeprint 2204-13

Tru Cargo Service
Tiger Moon Records TMR 010

Live at Scholes Street Studio
Gauci Music No #

Adding an electric guitar to the classic reeds-bass-drums trio creates more textures in a program than merely increasing chordal diversity. Pedals, knobs and other plectrum advances means that the plugged-in six string is usually handled uniquely by each.

Take Filipino guitarist, Johnny Alegreand’s playing on Sol Expression for instance. Although the multi-disciplinary picker recorded with Susie Ibarra among others, his strident asides are this side of Metal. This adds to the unique focus of the seven selection by River People, a rare instance of Pacific-oriented free improv. The group includes Japanese ambient bassist, Testru Hori, plus two so-called Westerners. Swiss drummer Christian Bucher often works with US alto saxophonist Rick Countryman. But that saxophonist lives in the Philippines and has frequently recorded with Sabu Toyozumi. That said the ghosts of Sunny Murray. Albert Ayler, Sonny Sharrock and Charlie Haden are more prominent than any purported Eastern deity here.

At the same time River People’s 2022 take on improv is unique in itself. Besides Alegreand’s wah-wah pedal effects, hardened strums and harsh strops, the narratives include Hori’s finger popping pressure, rumbles, ruffs and shuffles from Bucher, and Countryman’s triple tonguing, nearly endless multiphonics and split tone huffs and squeals. At the same time on a track like “Melting Point” guitar picking evolves from straight-ahead to Rock-like to concentrated pressure so that tremolo friction resembles organ chording. The reed response is divided among repeated doits, flattement and ascending screeches which narrow as guitar chords expand. Each player gets space to himself, with the saxophonist making the most of his unaccompanied interlude at the mid-point of “No One River”. His widening multiphonics are met with contrapuntal guitar-string slaps, triple-stopping arco bass expressions and clip-clop drumming. Resolution involves downwards saxophone scoops mated with escalating altissimo doits and a return to the nimble guitar twangs and intermittent drum rumbles which began the track. Not all the sounds are accelerated either. “Cry of Old Bamboo” is built around paced reed slurs which balance on finger-style guitar plucks and double bass string rubs. Furthermore the concluding “Reflections of The Night Sun” vibrates through split tone reed screams and dissonance to reverberate against drum rattles and guitar clips.

Taking a completely different approach is the Pebbles & Pearls, quartet where the gruffly lyrical fails of American Jeff Platz, who has recorded with the likes of Damon Smith, meets three mainstays of the Wiesbaden (Germany) free improv scene: saxophonist Dirk Marwedel, drummer Jörg Fischer and bassist Georg Wolf, all of whom have extensive experience playing with Euro improvisers. Because of this while there is high-octane improvising from the quartet, especially when Marwedel uncorks high-pitched squeals from his sopranino, the climate emphasis in this Spring are on a trio of more elliptical and atmospheric creations: “Olivine”, “Travertine” and “Mica Shapes”. Low key and slow moving, the first mates shaking guitar frails with reflective off-centre puffs from the saxophonist and intermittent drum rattles. The second is led by Wolf’s stops meeting Platz’s comping, which then doubles Marwedel’s tongue flutters until it shifts to tandem interaction between bass thumps and drum pings. “Mica Shapes” finds string buzzes and drum clatters moving away from backing the saxophonist’s bird-call-like trills and glass-tube-like patterning. As the percussion overflow tightens Wolf’s col legno strokes, Platz’s twangs and reed split tones work into a deep almost opaque connection only colored by Fischer’s drum top knuckle beats. Just as the other discs vary hard rocking with gentler fare, Pebbles & Pearls sophisticatedly expresses both moderated improvisation and tougher free music. That happens most notably on “Kaolin” where a West Coast feel featuring clarinet spliffs and intermittent drum beats ascends to high pitched reed squeaks and bell pings and clatters from the drummer. While the four-part connection is organic, crucially the last sequence finds Platz crunching a contrapuntal and tougher melody to challenge the barely touched mylar thumps , until a strummed bass line signals the ending.

More melodic than the other guitarists here, Torsten Papenheim seems to have put most of his energy into composing the 12 miniatures that make up Tru Cargo Service (TCS)’s second CD. It’s somewhat odd since Papenheim used to work with more adventurous players like Matthias Müller. As well considering the tunes celebrate such non-mainstream and proto-feminist figures as Kiki Smith and Susan Sontag, and TCS’ other members – tenor saxophonist Alexander Beierbach, bassist Berit Jung and drummer Christian Marien – are part of Berlin’s evolving musical gestalt, other than near mainstream evolution would be expected. While many tunes are built on interplay between the guitarist and saxophonist there’s a resemblance to what Stan Getz and Jim Hall would have played more than a half-century ago. All may occasionally attain high-pitched or trebly motifs but singly or together they’re never dissonant. It appears that the most notable tracks are those which venture past the expected and speed along with compacted toughness. The billowing guitar licks on “Für Swetlana Geir” for instance, named for the Russian-German translator, join with snarling sax lines and drum ruffs to create a distinctive hard surface. Measured drum smacks and keyboard-like guitar trembles finally join for a narrative that’s both warm and linear. “Für Inge Morath”, named for the Austrian photographer, that includes Marien’s faultless rhythm plus peeps and squeals from Beierbach, takes the linear motion still further to suggest swing rhythms. Meanwhile “Für Ingeborg Bachmann”, with its speedy Boppy line conveyed by walking bass and vibrated sax-guitar counterpoint seems at variance to the fate of the drug-addicted Austrian poet for which it’s named. At least “Für Marina Abramovic”, explodes with the same sort of energy that the Serbian performance artist brought to her earlier work. The ululating doits from the saxophonist, clanking metallic guitar strokes and buzzing double bass line that gradually take over the lead defines harshness. Conceived with good intensions and honoring many rule breakers, Schattenlos or shadowless could perhaps have been more impressive if the tunes were longer and allowed for more unexpected shading.

Meanwhile Live at Scholes Street Studio features a quartet of Brooklyn-based improvisers whose extended playing cycles through the highs, lows and in-betweens that eluded the Berlin group. Oddly enough though, despite Sandy Ewen being a guitarist, it’s almost impossible to identify any traditional tones she produces from her six-string. Instead during the five stop-start selections, only faint hints of electric buzzes or watery swells can be traced back to her. Literally the single time plectrum pressure is applied is at the end of the second selection where string-projected frails and droning cries are amped to electronic overrides. Even here though it’s the scoops and doits of reeds player Stephen Gauci, the rumbles from Joe Hertenstein’s drums, and, surprisingly in this one time, the arco strokes from bassist Thomas Helton which take up most of the aural space. Besides that instance and some stretched string flanges and finger pops during the final selection, ther basic guitar-ness of the instrument is denied throughout. Still the CD earns its place by the specific thrust and asides from Gauci and Hertenstein, who have worked with everyone from Cooper-Moore to Alexander von Schippenbach in the US and Germany.

More often than not the shape of the tracks balances on a mixture of Gauci’s expressive multiphonics on tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute and the drummer’s eerie cymbal clatters and clunks or rugged shuffles and ruffs. Although the group can give over one track to more than two minutes of altissimo saxophone squealing and percussion raps, the program isn’t completely atonal. Switching from gentling flute trilling to clarinet flattement, the reedist fluidly interprets one selection. Allowing reed flutter tones and line fragmentation to approach simple percussion pings, the end product is linear and almost lyrical. Although altissimo honks and harsh reflux from the saxophone plus rattles and pounding from the drummer are prominent elsewhere, overall the program moves cunningly stretching boundaries so that it’s unique and fascinating.

Four discs and four distinct approaches to a reeds-guitar-bass-drum interaction. While some have more to offer than others, each can be profitably explored.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Sol: 1. Sol Expression 2. No One River 3. Dragonflies of Red and Gold 4. Melting Point 5. River Rain 6. Cry of Old Bamboo 7. Reflections of The Night Sun

Personnel: Sol: Rick Countryman (alto saxophone); Johnny Alegre (guitar); Tetsuro Hori (bass) and Christian Bucher (drums)

Track Listing: Spring: 1. Conchyolin 2. Kaolin 3. Galena Jive 4. Olivine 5. Travertine 6. Mica Shapes 7. Soft Beryll-

Personnel: Spring: Dirk Marwedel (alto and sopranino saxophones, percussion) Jeff Platz (guitar); Georg Wolf (bass) and Jörg Fischer (drums)

Track Listing: Schattenlos: 1. Für Anni Albers 2. Für Marina Abramovic 3. Für Hannah Arendt 4. Für Ingeborg Bachmann 5. Für Forough Farrokhzad 6. Für Swetlana Geir 7. Für Hannah Höch 8. Für Inge Morath 9. Für Helga M Novak 10. Für Kiki Smith 11. Für Susan Sontag 12. Für Faherinissa Zeid

Personnel: Schattenlos: Alexander Beierbach (tenor saxophone); Torsten Papenheim (guitar); Berit Jung (bass) and Christian Marien (drums)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Improvisation I 2. Improvisations III

Personnel: Live: Stephen Gauci (tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet); Sandy Ewen (guitar): Thomas Helton (bass) and Joe Hertenstein (drums)