Slowfox 5

July 8, 2024

Rent a Dog Alive RDA 2025-2

Sebastian Gramss´ States of Play URSCHALL
Rent a Dog Alive RDA 2024-2

Bassist Sebastian Gramss is one of the central figures in Köln’s improvised music scene. Besides working with everyone from Frank Gratkowski to Scott Fields he has led various ensembles over the years,  usually seconded by Austrian keyboardist Philip Zoubek. His newest and noteworthy discs couldn’t be more different on the surface but share a similar commitment to exploring unanticipated timbres. However Atlas is dedicated to exploring the world, while Repercussions expands the search to the solar system.

Atlas is the 10th anniversary edition of the Slowfox band, which includes New Zealand alto saxophonist Hayden Chisholm along with Zoubek and Gramss. Joining them for interpretations of 23 tunes from around the world are Argentinian trumpeter Valentin Garvie, a former member of the Ensemble Modern and Patagonian Martin de Lassaleta who plays bass as does Gramss. More than doubling the personnel to two dozen, the band on Repercussions’ 11 tracks, includes Garvie, but not Chisholm. And while the other disc has no percussionist, this one has three, plus four synthesizer players including Zoubek and Gramss, another bassist, a guitarist and two reed players.

With two accomplished double bass players there’s enough rhythmic thrust, wood resounds and string stops to make up for the missing percussion on Atlas. Plus the weighty clanks and echoing vibrations created by Zoubek’s prepared piano adds additional jolts and cadences. Chisholm too helps align the tracks – which approximate a mixture of Anglo-Saxon ballads, Asian and African ritual music, South American dances and European love songs – by playing flute and Harmonium as well as his usual saxophone.

Tracks range in length from slight over 30 seconds to almost four minutes, with most in the two minute range. That means the quintet members demonstrate their adaptability by streaking from interpretation of a bouncy, repetitive beats to slow moving, sentimental love songs this side of Schlager. In fact more time to develop the themes in more depth would have been preferable.

The most interesting part of the exercise is that, probably because of the group members’ familiarity with many musical forms, how close some of these tunes from different countries and continents share sound characteristics. Early Jazz inflection from the hymns can be expected. For instance, the bass backing, high reed flutters and horizontal trumpet exposition on “Coração Vagabundo” a Brazilian love song, show linkage to “My Funny Valentine”. “Pōkarekare Ana”, a traditional New Zealand air propelled by breathy saxophone lines and a trumpet obbligato gains a gospel-like tinge from piano chording. An Argentinian miloga, “Taquito Militar” suggests it may have Klezmer roots, once bass stops, piccolo trumpet bites and reed trill are figured into the performance. “Unganji-ak” may have started out as Korean ritual music. But the slap and pop from loosened strings and high pitched squeals from the horns suggest a strange and frightening subtext.

Meanwhile modified plunger slurs, reed bites and a walking bass line on “Jutros Mi Je Ruža Procvetala”, a late-1950s Yugoslavian love song, emphasize the Jazz currents that underline its composition. Elsewhere the synthesizer’s whooshes and tremolo pitches take the place of traditional string picking on some of the Asian themes. Plus those themes that depend on brass inferences become even brassier as Garvie expands his techniques.

If the sounds on Atlas move from country to country, then the textures on Repercussions are of one piece, with the fluid patterns and repeated motifs creating what could be termed a soundtrack for outer space. While jagged interjections and dissonant sprinkles enliven the sonic evolution, the overall impression is of harmonized organization, constantly moving ahead.

Here Garvie has spots in which to expresses mellow trumpet portamento as well as bugling triplets or half-valve emotionalism. Martial drum beats share space with accelerating reed vibrations and buzzing oscillations from the synthesizers. Spare arrangements are often fattened up as tones from extra instruments are gradually added to initial stand alone narratives. Several crescendos involve the entire ensemble. But just as suddenly the exposition can draw back to expose different and singular instrumental colors.

Logically this is group music as well, although a few individual sequences stand out. One involves a simple clarion clarinet flutter that is harmonized with careful double bass stops on “0e” with dynamic piano comping and unison horn lines floating around the duo. Another is when “1c” turns into a contrapuntal horn showpiece after synthesizer effervescence and delicate percussion slaps have emphasized the brisk instrumental flow. Eventually the concluding “1f” wraps up the narrative with unison expression from sweetened high-pitched brass breaths and synthesizer simmers. Following bass string jumps that refence earlier motifs, textures modulate, meld and fade.

Each disc provide a different aural picture of the skills of Gramss and company. Each is ripe for investigation.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Repercussions 1. 0a 2. 0b 3. 0c 4. 0d 5. 0e 6. 1a 7. 1b 8. 1c 9. 1d 10. 1e 11. 1f

Personnel: Repercussions Valentin Garvie (trumpet, zink): Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet, clarinet); Wanja Slavin (alto saxophone); Philip Zoubek (piano, synthesizer); Christian Lorenzen (electric piano, synthesizer); Robert Nacken (synthesizer); Nicola L. Hein (guitar); Christian Ramond (bass); Sebastian Gramss (bass, synthesizer); Etienne Nillesen (prepared snare drum); Dominik Mahnig, Thomas Sauerborn (drums, percussion)

Track Listing: Atlas: 1, Mopti 2. Vidala 3. Taquito Militar 4.  Yèkèrmo Sèw 5. Jutros Mi Je Ruža Procvetala 6.  Pōkarekare Ana 7.  Itshitshi Lami 8. Young Sir 9. Raga Vrindavani Sarang 10. El Derecho De Vivir En Paz 11. Solo For Ehr-Hu 12. Song of Ju/’hoansi Bushmen 13. Coração Vagabundo 14. Movedit Takvanes Vtset 15. In Praise Of Genyen 16. Irish Reel 17. Unganji-ak 18. Lass Mi Bei Dir Sein 19. Ojakhum 20. Etenraku 21. Nearer, My God, To Thee 22. Kafal Sviri 23. Som W Stawie Rybecki

Personnel: Atlas: Valentín Garvie (trumpet, zink, piccolo trumpet); Hayden Chisholm (alto saxophone, flute, Harmonium); Philip Zoubek (piano, prepared piano, synthesizer) and Sebastian Gramss and Martín De Lassaletta (bass)