Steve Horenstein / Albert Beger / Arkady Gotesman / Vyacheslav Ganelin / Jen Baker / Harold Rubin / Ned Rothenberg / Scott R. Looney / Aurora Josephson / Vladimir Volkov / Damon Smith / John Tchicai / Ariel Shibolet

March 20, 2008

Falling Into Place

Auris Media Aum 007

Slava Ganelin-Vladimir Volkov

Ne Slyshno

Auris Media Aum 012


White Nights Festival Tel Aviv 2006

Kadima Collective KCR 11


Untitled (1959)

Kadima Collective KCR 09

Secure in its position as the one true democracy in the Middle East, cosmopolitan elements in Israel have long encouraged the growth of an indigenous jazz scene. Only in the past decade-and-a-half however, have improvisers on the Israeli scene elicited more than local interest. At the same time, associations between many Israelis and musicians in other countries has meant that a Diaspora of improvisers from the Jewish state has set up shop – and garnered fulsome praise – in jazz capitals such as New York.

As the top-flight music on these CDs demonstrates, not every Israeli improviser has emigrated. However it’s also instructive to note that many of the most notable sounds here result from collaborations between Israeli players and outsiders. Plus with the still-young country actively encouraging Jewish immigration, some of Israel’s more advanced players have non-Israeli origins. To take three at random, baritone saxophonist Steve Horenstein is originally an American; bassist JC Jones comes from France; and keyboardist Slava Ganelin’s Ganelin Trio was probably the most famous avant-garde ensemble in the Cold War era Soviet Block, before the Lithuanian Ganelin immigrated to Israel.

Still an internationalist, Ne Slyshno finds the veteran Ganelin hooked up with a former Russian, bassist Vladimir Volkov, whose past credits include work with the Moscow Composers Orchestra and Moscow Art Trio. Conversant with many styles of music, Volkov’s tough plucking and string-stopping resemble that of mainstreamers like Red Mitchell, while his sul ponticello slides and high frequency tremolo patterns are stylistically avant-garde. Someone who also performs traditional music on the viola de gamba, Volkov’s facility includes the ability to add Roma-like flying staccato runs to his solos.

Completed by short, quieter postludes, which allow Ganelin’s grand piano cadenzas to suggest both Artur Rubinstein-like romantic coloration and dynamics and the key-spanking and plinking that relate to Bud Powell’s bop advances, the improvisations at Ne Slyshn’s centre are both extensive and descriptive.

Instructively, no more than one-quarter of the second track passes before the pianist makes clear that despite his liking for contrasting dynamics à la Cecil Taylor, the swaggering echoes he uses distinctively distance him from the American’s concept. Furthermore among the gouts of notes exposed, his playing is still sensitive enough to make room for Volkov’s staccato squeaks on the higher-pitched strings. While Ganelin’s styling may be modern enough to include internal string scraping, manic boogie-woogie-styling and rough chiming notes appear as well. Then by the tune’s climax his Slavic balladic side asserts itself again.

When the two instruments couple on the third track, the bassist’s subterranean plucks are given added impetus by the pianist’s rolling chords patterns. In fact, Volkov’s double-stopping percussiveness when added to Ganelin’s cross-handed plinking and cymbal slaps – the pianist also plays percussion – almost transforms the two musicians into a bop trio. Just as quickly bird-screeching rappelling on the bull fiddle’s strings splinter the piano’s Europeanized melodies, leaving more space for bell-ringing and the squeaks of plastic toys. Ramping up his keys with foot pedal pressure to full Russian classical mode, Ganelin’s widely splayed forward motion is only moderated by Volkov’s modulated string slapping.

A year previously Ganelin met American multi-reedist Ned Rothenberg for a live concert in Jaffa. It foreshadowed some of his simpatico work with Volkov, but elsewhere seems more distant than any land-sharing proposal from either the Palestinian or Israeli side. Three of the first four numbers expose Rothenberg’s skill on clarinet, bass clarinet and alto saxophone. The fourth is a more-than-34-minute solo tour-de-force from Ganelin called “A Place With The Space”. It’s so self-contained, that “A Place With The Space” could be a Territories settler’s view of the rest of the country.

Throughout, Ganelin seem intent on not only on creating a fantasia of organic piano patterns, but also boost his admittedly rudimentary percussion skills. Later on, he confirm that his synthesizer is capable of replicating any timbre from that of the lumbering bassoon in Peter and the Wolf to thundering E. Power Biggs-like organ stops. Again creating a détente between Romantic-styled cadences and bebop runs on the piano, Ganelin’s pitch-sliding tones and soundboard vibrations are more descriptive than the thumping percussion or the swirling, blurred patterns from the synth.

For his part, Rothenberg, who has held his own in duets with British saxophone master Evan Parker among others, defines versatility. “The Foot In It” exhibits his tongue-slapping chalumeau register and widely spaced multiphonics on bass clarinet. “A Blue Dance” for clarinet shows how harsh trills, legato chirps and flutter tonguing can be built up into rhythmic refractions of continuous breathing with verbalized hocketing and expressive high pitches. Introducing the properties of his alto saxophone’s metal as well as its reed, “Wood In The Metal” is cumulative program of high intensity and extended pitches that by exposing every sibilant tone produce a sound midway between bagpipe chanter and a pan flute.

Somewhat anti-climatic, the set of short duets that follow merely gilds the two sonic lilies that are exhibited singly. More like jousts than meetings, the feeling persists that each player dons his technical armor as a way to push the other to react. Thus at one point flowery and extended European piano echoes lead to mellow bass clarinet runs, snorts and gentling coloration, with tongue slaps and arpeggios stretching to be more connective. Elsewhere, marimba-like internal piano string echoes underscore single, twittering shakuhachi lines.

A similar congruence, but not-quite connection, exists in the extended free improvisation from Ganelin, drummer Arkady Gotesman and Irish guitarist Mark O’Leary on White Nights Festival. Tel Aviv’s 12-hour musical marathon., the live performances mix’n’match Israelis and visitors in ad-hoc groups. With Gotesman laying down a low rumble and the pianist comping, the guitarist appears eager to break things up by varying what initially seems to be Tal Farlow-like picking with long-lined frails and rock-styled vamps. Meeting him with key patting and pounding plus disassociated runs, Genelin’s post-Energy music and O’Leary post-fusion sounds don’t really gel.

More sympathetic is the drummer’s low-key contribution to “German Poem”, which also features the walking bass of Shmil Frankel, off-centre tolling piano notes from Olga Magieres plus Harold Rubin’s recitation and rustic tongue slapping and twittering clarinet work. The instrumental section trumps the words however.

However on “Ship of Fools”, an interactive trio of saxophonist Horenstein, bassist Jones and Loic Kessous on computer sound processing, makes better use of bull fiddle and reed timbres. Content to process and spit back the purely instrumental tones, the computer only betrays its presence with the odd shuddering pulse. Overall, the piece is an essay in cooperation. Working up to high intensity, Jones ratchets his bow across the strings producing sul ponticello lines, rough strums and spiccato ricocheting. Meanwhile Horenstein snorts split tones from the baritone’s highest register, steady, low-pitched honks and tongue flutters. Eventually reached is an accord of tremolo tones that mulch portions of computer warbles, saxophone timbres and bass string thumps.

Other saxophonist on hand during White Nights include Danish tenor saxophonist John Tchicai and local Ariel Shibolet. Despite his long history in outside music, Tchicai’s trio with John Bostock on piano and Noam David on drums seems to meander towards adagio ballad territory except for the occasional off-kilter reed squeak. Similarly, Shibolet’s two brief tracks on soprano saxophone with Yoram Lachish’ electronics expose circular breathing and electronic shrilling, but never really gather momentum.

A more impressive showcase for Shibolet is Untitled (1959). Recorded around the same time as White Nights but in Oakland, Calif. it matches the soprano saxophonist with four of his Bay area contemporaries: trombonist Jen Baker, pianist Scott R. Loney – who also recorded, mixed and mastered the CD – bassist Damon Smith and vocalist Aurora Josephson.

All track titles are taken from paintings by Mark Rothko, with the sfumato coloration produced by all quintet members. For instance, “White, Yellow, Red on Yellow” gives Shibolet space for altissimo peeps and irregular vibrations as Baker’s ‘bone notes sluice downwards, Loney twangs and stops the piano’s internal strings and Smith slides acro tones back-and-forth. Eventually Josephson’s choked bel canto tones make common cause with the saxophonist’s circular breathing.

Braying slurs from Baker are the initial defining factor of the title track, soon joined by the saxophonist’s rolling tongue slaps. Double and triple tonguing to a multiphonic display, the trombonist eventually lets loosen with elongated and accumulated trills and tones, almost undifferentiated from Shibolet’s reed bites. Pitter-pattering keyboard lines and Smith’s thick slaps put the solos in context.

Other improvisations encompass air sax runs, keyboard arpeggios and vocal onomatopoeia from Josephson, though “Blue Cloud”, the almost 7½-minute longest track touches on New music. Tough bow slices and near-the-pegs plucks from Smith, crash-and-bang chording from Looney meet undulating wah-wah notes from Baker and colored air breaths and thick, irregular vibrato jumps from the saxophonist. Marshalling her collection of near-inaudible croaks and duck-like growls, Josephson’s quivering throat textures match extended trombone plunger tones and trilling grace notes from Shibolet.

Sanctions and settlements on the West Bank to the contrary, cooperation creates more evolution – musical and otherwise – than isolation. Each of these CDs demonstrates that, in a completely musical way, in one fashion or another.

— Ken Waxman


Track Listing: White: 1. Improv 1 2. The Holy Coordinator 3. German Poem 4. Untitled 1 5. Ship of Fools 6. Untitled 2 7. Free Improv 8. Improv 1 9. Anima 10. Summit for Albert Ayler

Personnel: White: 1. & 8 Ariel Shibolet (soprano saxophone) and Yoram Lachish (electronics) 2. John Tchicai (tenor saxophone); John Bostock (piano) and Noam David (drums) 3. Harold Rubin (clarinet and voice); Olga Magieres (piano); Shmil Frankel (bass) and Arkady Gotesman (drums) 4. & 6.Wlodzimierz Kiniorski (tenor saxophone and flute); Rafal Mazur (bass) and Markek Choloniewski (electronics) 5. Steve Horenstein (baritone saxophone); JC Jones (bass) and Loic Kessous (computer sound processing) 7. Slava Ganelin (piano and synthesizer); Mark O’Leary (guitar) and Akady Gotesman (drums) 9. Spheres Duo: Arnon Zimra (piano) and Zvi Joffe (vibraphone and percussion) 10. John Tchicai and Albert Berger (tenor saxophones); Steve Horenstein (baritone saxophone) and Noam David (drums)

Track Listing: One: One Slyshno 1. (00:26) 2. (22:10) 3. (26:21) 4. (12:35) 5. (06:26)

Personnel: One: Slava Ganelin (piano and percussion) and Vladimir Volkov (bass)

Track Listing: Untitled: 1. Number 12 2. Homage to Matisse 3. Number 61 (Brown, Blue, Brown on Blue) [t,p,s] 4. Yellow, Orange, Red on Orange [t,p,s] 5. White, Yellow, Red on Yellow 6. Light, Earth and Blue 7. Ochre and Red on Red [t,p,b] 8. White Band (Number 27) [v.t] 9. Three Reds [v,s] 10. Blue Cloud 11. White Cloud 12. Four Reds [t,b,s] 13. Black, Ochre, Red and Red [t,b,s] 14. Red, Gray, White on Yellow 15. Red, Black, Orange, Yellow on Yellow 16. Untitled (1959)

Personnel: Untitled: Jen Baker (trombone); Ariel Shibolet (soprano saxophone); Scott R. Looney (piano); Damon Smith (bass) and Aurora Josephson (voice)

Track Listing: Falling: 1. The Foot In It 2. The Place With The Space 3. A Blue Dance 4. Wood In The Metal 5. First Conversation 6. Steps In Time 7. Luminous Staircase 8. Glassland 9. Encore

Personnel: Falling: Ned Rothenberg (alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet and shakuhachi) and Slava Ganelin (piano, synthesizer and percussion)