Ruth Barberán / Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Ferran Fages

June 23, 2013


Intonema in 1004

Goyvaerts/Morgan/Van Buggenhout

White Smoke

Creative Sources CS 248 CD

No matter how altered the tones of acoustic instruments become with extended techniques, pairing them with those produced by electronics and so-called objects results in a stand-off that can be beguiling or distasteful. Luckily both the improvising trios here are sophisticated enough in handling the material(s) that avoidance is never an option. Uniquely constituted, each also approaches the language of improvisation in a highly novel fashion.

Concret, for instance, consists of a single track by long-time Catalan trio Atolón. One of the perhaps dozen CDs in which the three participate in various combinations, the acoustic instrument here is the trumpet of Ruth Barberán. Considering that she was a member of improvisers’ collective IBA as long ago as 1999, her playing evidentially has no Jazz roots. Another former IBA affiliate, Ferran Fages, who plays acoustic turntable and objects on the CD, has also worked with a variety of electronically-oriented fellow travelers, most notably the duo Cremaster with Portuguese-born accordionist Alfredo Costa Monteiro. Now Barcelona-based like the others, Costa Monteiro’s squeeze box abilities are expansive, but never neglect to refer to the instrument’s history as a keyboard-and-bellows music-maker.

Distinctively, the keyboard on White Smoke is the EMS synthesizer played by Willy Van Buggenhout who has been playing Free Music for years but never recorded before this disc. The percussion, objects and toys are from another Flemish musician, Mike Goyvaerts, who has also recorded with the Belgium-German Canaries on the Pole combo and worked with pianist Fred Van Hove. Adding to the acoustic interface are the soprano and tenor saxophones of Jeffrey Morgan, a Köln-based American, whose varied career has seen him paired with British expatriate drummer Paul Lytton as well legendary American saxophonist Bert Wilson.

With a lineage that goes back to the original stirrings of Free Jazz in the U.S. and Europe, the members of White Smoke segment their improvisations into nine tracks. Additionally, despite Van Buggenhout’s command of slurred signal processing and other electro-oriented vibrations plus Goyvaerts ability to press objects and toys into the service of sound making, the trio never loses sight of acoustic improvisation. From the get-go, for every extended other-worldly quiver or video-game-like explosion produced by the EMS, sturdy rolls, drags plus rattles are exposed by the percussionist, with a solid, straightforward beat. Working the territory between the electro-acoustic extremes, Morgan’s sometimes disconnected, and mostly sharp altissimo bites insinuate themselves among the others’ pauses.

At junctures as well, Morgan’s corkscrew trills or kazoo-like split tones are met by novel percussion extensions that appear to come from rippling thunder sheets, shaking a bell tree or squeaking plush toys on Goyvaerts’ part, although the Belgian still manages to maintain a connective pitter-patter. Additionally the keyboardist’s watery burbles and measured drone provide another ostinato linkage. Meantime Goyvaerts and Van Buggenhout face off on “The Dawn and the Dream” and “Burial Grounds”. Microtonal shimmies, ratcheting loops and signal-processed gongs make circuitous connections with steel drum like whaps and tremolo hand drumming on the former; while EMS groans and murmurs plus percussion rumbles and pops serve as the chorus behind Morgan’s thin altissimo shrilling.

Showpiece of the session is the more-than-11-minute “Wings and Arrows”. Mulching each instrument’s properties into a sympathetic narrative, Van Buggenhout uncoils his processed signals so that they resemble the nuanced keyboard pressing and clipping of an accordion, while Goyvaerts confines himself to press rolls, pops and hand slaps. Before Van Buggenhout’s pulsating tones and a final cymbal clack announce the ending, Morgan makes the most of his solo, twisting and puffing multiphonics to a defining staccato summation.

True to its title, non-acoustic sounds are more upfront on Concret, with Barberán’s trumpet tones no way as expressive as Morgan’s saxophone forays. Nor are they meant to be. Her role in the exposition is to produce buzzing flat-line tremolos which meander throughout the disc with glacier-like slowness. Not so much an ostinato as an aside, her contributions usually are masked within the slowly evolving sound miasma. At the same time while infrequently upfront, any hard and/or harsh percussion-like abrasions on Fages’ part are correspondingly reduced to faint judders. Overall, although at points the interaction is so leisurely that it nears stasis; distinguishing quivers from Costa Monteiro at least confirm the accordion’s presence in the narrative.

Less formal in any compositional fashion, what serves as the CD’s finale is the session’s last variation which blends a leaking electronic drone, nearly motionless capillary actions and squeeze box textures. Concentrated into an intense drone, the aural memory of its qualities hangs in the air after the program is completed.

As long as there are novel sound makers to be experimented with and new ways to play traditional instruments, committed improvisers will be in the forefront of this sonic research. These two trios provide an interim report on some of the results.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: White: 1. Fire Jumpers! 2. The Silver Gates of the Moon 3. Garden of Delights 4. Wild Boar Hunting 5. A Treasure of Sulphur Clouds 6. The Dawn and the Dream 7. Wings and Arrows 8. Eagle’s Dance 9. Burial Grounds

Personnel: White: Jeffrey Morgan (soprano and tenor saxophones); Willy Van Buggenhout (EMS synthesizer) and Mike Goyvaerts (percussion, objects and toys)

Track Listing: Concret: 1. Concret

Personnel: Concret: Ruth Barberán (trumpet and objects); Alfredo Costa Monteiro (accordion and objects) and Ferran Fages (acoustic turntable and objects)