December 5, 2023

Leo Records CD LR 938

Hybride Synergetics (LowToneStudies)
FMR CD 674-0423

Unlike politics represented by most right-wing populists actions, how low one can go can have a certain fascination for some musicians. That preoccupation can result is some singular but extraordinary sounds as demonstrated by these sessions. The all-Swiss Tetrapylon features three acoustic bass players – Peter K. Frey, Christian Weber and Daniel Studer plus one electric bassist, Jan Schlegel – in a program of mixed lengthy and shorter tracks that showcase the many timbres that can be created by 16 strings shaped by skillful hands.

Each bassist has extensive experience on the continental free music scene, as does Belgian Peter Jacquemyn, who is featured on Hybride Synergetics. But while deep broad tones are favored as much as on the other disc, the make up is slightly different. Although there’s another bassist, German Georg Karger, but the two string players are joined by another German improviser: Udo Schindler. However his basements blasts originate from bass and contrabass clarinets, and he even throw in a few mid-range ones from the soprano saxophone. Collectively the trio members probably have as much creative music experience than the four Swiss players.

Melodicism and narrative are secondary for the Swiss quarter since abrasive scratches constantly supersede tonal expansion. Filling of this string sandwich is made up of the three brief tracks bookended by the prolonged “Fluid I” and “Fluid II”. Throughout folkloric and formal techniques alternate with interactive crackles and rustles, likely from Schlegel, that introduce brief, understated rotations into electronically processed twitches. Multi-sectional, both “Fluids” intensify string and wood contrasts as they expand. “Fluid I” for instance balances quick spiccato pops, widening multi-string glissandi and distant high-on-the-neck squeals with concentrated low-pitch rumbles; and swift slides with measured single string stops. A concluding sequence encompasses dramatic pauses, a walking bass line and string hammering that swells then dissolves into silence. Revisited on “Fluid II”, string shaking and bongo-resembling wood pumps give way to polyrhythmic counterpoint, as swift ratchets across the strings meet continuous low-pitch drones. By midpoint top-of-scale string whistles and string straining asides are combined into a motif that speeds to a near presto tempo as violin-pitched bent notes add to an instance of four-part harmony. Referencing other sections of the extended improvisations, the final sequence becomes so quiet that bow strokes are barely heard until a concluding rugged string scratch confirms the contrasting parts of the program.

Subtract the electric bass and substitute reeds for another and the LowToneStudies involve another five-part improvisation. Again while there’s a brief pivot to the traditional bass accompaniment-reed solo role during a couple of sequences, emphasis is on varied timbral combinations. Often reed and string output sound almost identical. In fact it’s nearly a revelation on the first track, when after accepting sympathetic scratches and throbs from Jacquemyn and Karger as the exposition, the affiliated third smears is identified as coming from the bass clarinet. Later on, and throughout, there’s further recognition as one bassist plucks and the other bows and Schindler sometimes alternates altissimo shrieks with mid-range split tones. Prominently on the first track and briefly elsewhere, a melodic tinge is exposed based on chalumeau register reed trills and dual sweeps from the bassists. Never one to accept conventional tones, the clarinetist almost tries out bagpipe-chanter-like buzzes coupled with resonating low-string bass patterns; flattement blowing with key movement alongside extended arco drones; wide hunting-horn-like spetrofluctuation in response to spiccato string pumps; and a reed pitch so shrill that it sounds like a squeaky toy. Timbral exploration isn’t limited to Schindler either. Contrapuntal challenges between the double basses or with the clarinetist are highlighted. Widening wood-rending suggesting bow strokes mix with sul tasto thrusts or one bassist sources a bell-like ping as another strokes his strings with gentle match box flint sibilance. Sudden string stretching sawing brings out triple tonguing vibrations and staccato whistles from clarion reed tones. But considering tonal proximity – although Jacquemyn’s vocal chords may be involved – it’s uncertain whether renal growls, drawn out puffs and staccato yelps result from string or reed techniques. While the concluding improv includes a lyrical interlude and a final acerbic reed shriek, the extended fourth “Hybride Synergetic” is the climatic demonstration of the trio’s technical smarts. Besides connective string strokes that segue to hold the program together, such previously unheard projections as clock-ticking pops or crying stretches from the strings and squawking split tone and tongue stops from the reeds are prominent.

Essays in low tones, both discs exude the same fascination as studied versatility among the players confirming that there’s no disadvantage for improvisers to avoid the treble clef.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Tetrapylon: 1. Fluid I 2. Jurassic Lullaby 3. Briefly Drawn 4. Klunka-Chunka 5. Fluid II

Personnel: Tetrapylon: Peter K. Frey, Christian Weber and Daniel Studer (bass) and Jan Schlegel (electric bass)

Track Listing: Hybride: 1. Hybride Synergetic 2. Hybride Synergetic 3. Hybride Synergetic 4. Hybride Synergetic 5. Hybride Synergetic

Personnel: Hybride: Udo Schindler (bass and contrabass clarinet, soprano saxophone); Peter Jacquemyn and Georg Karger (bass)