August 11, 2015

Frozen Orchestra (Amsterdam)
SOFA 546

Perfectly reflecting its name, the Pitch quartet adds an additional six musicians to generate this more than 40-minute performance that’s block-solid plus juddering with barely perceptible motion. Microtonal explorers of drone and improvisation, this Berlin-based, Amsterdam-recorded ensemble has come up with the sonic equivalent of visual art’s sfmato overlaying translucent color to create perceptions of depth, volume and form.

Essentially as the sounds evolve over two-LP sides it’s as if the buzzing reeds tone, guttural brass breaths and watery string sluices are near-motionless, but evolving like time-lapse photography of a flower blossoming. Over a while, despite there being almost no transition between instrumental tones, more of the players’ contributions can be heard. Forthrightly melodic by the time “Side B” arrives, like trick photography, the ensemble’s buzzing textures have already reached a couple of muscular crescendos before that with Morten J. Olsen’s incandescent vibraphone asides most prominent. Since the group texture is predominately completed by reed – Michael Thieke, Lucio Capece, Chris Heenan – and string – Johnny Chang, Okkyung Lee, Koen Nutters – specialists, it’s not surprisingly that the textural variations are those associated with thrusting glissandi. If a combination string-reed instrument existed however, the polyphonic results suggest that this fanciful tool could have allowed all the timbres to emanate from a single source.

Although as inconclusive as the final phrases in a modern short story, the arrangement for “Frozen Orchestra” does finally herd the wave-form peaks and valleys into something resembling a conclusion. Tremolo quivers from Boris Baltschun’s electric pump organ – possibly bulked up by Valerio Tricoli’s revox amplifications – become more pronounced. Once jolted by these vibrating resonations, the other players’ output is compressed into a single drone which finally dribbles away.

Practically solo-less, this commanding group sound is structurally closer to some contemporary notated music than the unconstrained freedom of pure improv. On its own terms however, the Pitch and associates have created a lucid program that insinuates rather than excites but still accomplishes its musical aims.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Side A: Frozen Orchestra 1 2. Side B: Frozen Orchestra 2

Personnel: Robin Hayward (tuba); Michael Thieke (clarinet); Lucio Capece (bass clarinet); Chris Heenan (contrabass clarinet); Boris Baltschun (electric pump organ); Morten J. Olsen (vibraphone); Johnny Chang (violin); Okkyung Lee (cello); Koen Nutters (bass) and Valerio Tricoli (revox tape recorder)