February 7, 2024

The Giving Tree Moving On
Creative Sources CS 784 CD

Jessica Pavone
Out of Your Head OOYH 023

One configuration may include a bassoonist and the other a percussionist, but there’s more than instrumentation that distinguishes American Jessica Pavone’s Clamor septet from the five-piece Portuguese-American quintet on The Giving Tree Moving On.

Violist Pavone, who has worked with the likes of Anthony Braxton and Mary Halvorson in compositional and improvised situations, is no stranger to string ensembles. She’s recorded in more traditional instrumental setting with one colleagues here: violist Abby Swidler. The others,  violinists Aimée Niemann and Charlotte Munn-Wood, cellist Mariel Roberts are usually found in the  notated music world, bassist Shayna Dulberger is known as an improviser, while bassoonist Katherine Young moves between the two spheres. That background perfectly fits Pavone’s context. A collaborative effort, her four compositions feature soloists in improvised dialogue with the rest of the ensemble.

Free Music is the stated aim of the other disc. This  suite of eight sequences distinguished by Roman numeral-numbered tracks is dedicated to pure and interactive improvisation from Portuguese players violist Ernesto Rodrigues, who also plays crackle box, guitarist Flak; bassist João Madeira  and percussionist José Oliveira plus American cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. All have extensive creative music experience working with everyone from Peter Brötzmann and the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra to Bruno Parrinha and “Baby” Sommer.

Warm and cohesive throughout, the tunes on Clamor are mostly built on slowly evolving thickened and overlapping harmonies or distinctive pitch variations among the players for full spectrum sequence ambulation. Although microtones are omnipresent so are motifs which pull the composition in varied directions. “Bloom” for instance suggests both pastoral and Eurasian timbres. However Pavone and Roberts individually interject airy sul ponticello sweeps and angled jabs for quick, tart counterpoint to the track’s evolution.

Young’s tremolo drones are given more of a workout on the two-part “Nu Shu”. Moving among melody and almost mechanized strains, her reed patterns vibrate with inverse challenges to string unity. As her renal rumbles become more intense, the broken octave affiliation which animates the entire group begins to crumble. Before a conclusion related to the bassoonist’s split tones and nephritic reed smears, the string players intervene. There are below the bridge rustles and bel canto vocalized warbles from Pavone, spiccato bounces, as slices, stops and stretches from all create a polyphonic response to Young’s transformative growls.

All manner of extended string techniques, tonal ambiguity and division among arco and pizzicato motifs are omnipresent on The Giving Tree Moving On. Oddly enough through Oliveira’s cymbal sizzles and drum clacks are less evident than Young’s bassoon on the other disc. However the guitar twangs and strums and the chirps, whistles and suckling noises from Rodrigues’ primitive electronics are more prevalent especially during the later part of the program.

More crucially whereas the septet disc is primarily a group effort designed for composition interpretation as well as improvisation, each quintet member appears to be going his separate way on this session. In spite of this individualism however, profound interaction sews together disparate parts, revealing cohesion as the tracks evolve.

Part of this relates to connective textures which include a persistent undertone, usually projected by string swelling and stopping, in spite of as many string slaps, buzzes and slices also heard. Not only that, but stacked chords and textures are added as well. Dark, woody timbres bowed by the low-pitched instruments make one impression, while strained and speedy slices are contrapuntally emphasized from the higher-pitched ones.

Pressure is intensified with raspy cello stops and viola scratching, while Flak creates an individual role as his pointed twangs and flanges reverberate among the arco strings. His strums however join with the bassist’s woody pats and stops to create a continuum equivalent to that from the bassoonist and bassist on the other disc. Madeira

contributes solo variations with col legno or spiccato resonations as well.

All strands combine on the concluding “VIII”, which is also the CD’s longest track. Linear stability is created as cymbal clanks and low-pitched double bass vibrations provide the horizontal ballast upon which guitar frails and contrasting aviary chirps and answering squeaky string rubs  are swept into a consistent descending narrative.

Overall it may appear that at points both ensembles have many similarities as well as differences. Each group also posits a profound plan to present high-quality string-based sounds.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Clamor: 1. Neolttwigi 2. Nu Shu (part 1) 3. Nu Shu (part 2) 4. Bloom

Personnel: Clamor: Katherine Young (bassoon); Aimée Niemann, Charlotte Munn-Wood (violin); Abby Swidler, Jessica Pavone (viola); Mariel Roberts (cello) and Shayna Dulberger (bass)

Track Listing: Giving: 1. I 2. II 3. III 4. IV 5. V 6. VI 7. VII 8. VIII

Personnel: Giving: Ernesto Rodrigues (viola, crackle box); Flak (guitar); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello); João Madeira (bass) and José Oliveira (percussion)