Simon Rose / Willi Kellers / Jan Roder

June 6, 2018

New World

FMR CD 464

Deniz Peters/Simon Rose

Edith’s Problem

Leo Records CD LR 812

Without being facetious there may well be an academic as well as an instinctive way of playing completely Free Music. At least that’s what’s suggested by these singular CDs featuring British-born, Berlin-based alto and baritone saxophonist Simon Rose. While each performance is valid, the chasm that exists between the two may be like that one separates someone with a PhD in mathematics and another who plays the ponies by instinct. Rose who is a researcher and author of books on the creative process is certainly cognizant of both solitudes. A participant in lectures and symposia as well as creating multi-media and site specific programs, he has collaborated with exploratory music practitioner such as Stefan Schultze and Steve Noble.

Drawing on that background as well as the long Energy Music lineage is the New World disc. In a classic Free Jazz formation, the saxophonist’s trio partners are versatile bassist Jan Roder, who has worked with Ulrich Gumpert and Die Entäuschung band among many others; and veteran drummer Willi Kellers, whose playing partners have included Peter Kowald and Thomas Borgmann. In contrast, Edith’s Problem is the result of a first-time musical meeting with pianist Deniz Peters, also a music researcher at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts Graz. While anything but precious, the CD’s seven hushed, measured and brittle duo improvisations delineate Free (chamber) music, with a Northern European-styled wintery touch.

However, the seven tracks by the Rose/Keller/Roder trio could be undomesticated ferocious plants, compared to Peters/Rose’s seven selections which appear as if they were flora nurtured in arctic tundra. Loud circular blowing from the saxophonist, wide plucks from the bassist and energetic drum pummeling are obvious as early as “Human Head”, the first track. The intensity is such in fact that the almost 5½-minute piece flashes by as if it was a mere five second respite. Slipping between his two horns, Rose exhibits the same tenacity, whether his overblowing takes the form of subterranean slurps working up to mid-range growls or altissimo peeps sliding down to moderato scene-setting. If his extended techniques occasionally post the possibility of two saxophones on site, then Kellers’ cross pulses pick up conga drum and mbira echoes as well as more expected beats from his kit. Meanwhile, an exceptional instance of Roder’s skill occurs on “That Metal Smell”. Humming as he ferociously attacks the strings, his subtle patterns soon reach multiplied vibrations with the strings pulled on to such an extent that it appears as if they could splinter. Rose’s response to this is Frank Wright-like treetop high split tones, while Kellers, who played with Wright, beats a tattoo and shivers cymbal vibrations.

When the drummer’s sounds prevail, as on tracks such as “Now it’s Dark” and “Medicine”, textures vary from pressurized crackles and crunches from cymbals to more restrained colors that could arise from guiro strokes and triangle pings. Those beat variables on “Medicine”, lead to the prescription of bright thickened multiphonics from Rose, while Roder’s popping vibrations keep the narrative flowing. “Now it’s Dark” is only opaque when reed smears and growls intersect with doubled strokes from the bassist. Soon the emotions seem to be almost more than Rose can handle as his frenetic near-vocalized output starts resembling that of a Tourette syndrome sufferer. Roder’s southward slides though help regularize the pulse down to the finale. “River Witness”, the final track which begins with a ceremonial gong-like cymbal echo, is cornucopia of all the textures that precede it, including bottom-heavy reed snores, tambourine-like rhythm shakes and a strumming guitar-like continuum from the bassist. Kora-like strokes from Roder and tongue-slapping variation from Rose help maintain excitement until the end.

Improvising on the exact same number of tunes in the identical time frame, the cerebral playing on Edith’s Problem is so formal compared to the freedom of New World that it seems to go on at twice the length. Often the textures of Peters’ delicate single notes and Rose’s sluicing buzz spread evenly across the program like peanut butter on toast. Designed like a mountain climb, a track like “Between, Part 2”, begins with quiet piano plinks, moves along on Rose’s breaths which evolve from barely there to heavily vibrated snores, then buzzes downwards to balance piano key clips with saxophone key percussion. Another variation of this occurs on “Resonance, Part 1”. Here deep-seated baritone shudders are punctuated by silences, followed by Rose’s glissandi aimed towards the piano’s innards to take advantage of its echoes, as Peters’ random pressure on the keys produces timbres from the agraffe and speaking length as well as more expected sound makers.

Although other sections are devoted to such technical exercises as the juxtapositions of chalumeau flutter-tonguing and altissimo trills among singular key comping, the nearly 12½-minute “Shifts” gives the two sufficient space to highlight the divergences and affiliations in this sonic pas de deux. Here the pianist’s proportion of the improvisation appears more forthcoming, with inner string jiggles, woodblock-like percussive smacks and strumming chord patterns in evidence. Frequently these craggy asides reflect or spur on Rose’s elaborations, which encompass snarling snorts, hectoring honks, withdrawn breaths and aviary cries. Together they compromise on final tone smudging.

Individual preference for the restrained or raunchy when it comes to improvisation may influence appreciation of New World or Edith’s Problem. Both have much to recommend them.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: New: 1. Human Head 2. Cargo 3. Now it’s Dark 4. No Joseph 5. That Metal Smell 6. Medicine 7. River Witness

Personnel: New: Simon Rose (alto and baritone saxophones); Jan Roder (bass) and Willi Kellers (drums)

Track Listing: Edith: 1. Between, Part 1 2. Between, Part 2 3. Hinges 4. Resonance, Part 1 5. Shifts 6. Resonance, Part 2 7. Parting

Personnel: Edith: Simon Rose (alto and baritone saxophones) and Deniz Peters (piano)