Sylvain Kassap & Héléne Labarriére

September 19, 2023

Émouvance emv 1047

Udo Schindler & Ardhi Engl
Basis_ B[r]uchstücke
Creative Sources CS 750 CD

Trying to avoid the cliché that two similar constituted duos can create radically distinct music is difficult, but it rings true here. And it’s not because while clarinetist Sylvain Kassap and bassist Héléne Labarriére, both French, use conventional instruments while Ardhi Engl, who partners with clarinetist Udo Schindler uses a self-invented instrument. That’s because Engl’s method of playing his stringed instrument isn’t unlike that used on a regular double bass. Instead it’s that while Kassap, who has recorded with Hamid Drake and Labarriére with Christophe Rocher may sometimes use unconventional techniques, but their commitment is to the song form. That’s why Jacques Brel’s “Jaurès” ends their disc without cleavage. Meanwhile the Germans, Engl, who has played with Sebi Tramontana, and Schindler, who has partnered multiple exploratory players, are most concerned with improvisational experimentation rather than the shape or conclusion of Basis_ B[r]uchstücke’s nine numerical tracks.

Moreover Dédicaces’ exact number of tracks are linear. The tandem improvising asserts sympathetic harmony and measured balance over whatever angled and vibrated reed tones and pumping and popping strings are worked into the mix. Even “Jaurès”, which ends with warm clarinet sighs and bass strums, begins with alternating clarion and nephritic reed timbres. On those tracks mostly dedicated to solo flights, Kassap’s invention extends to near-pan flute variations Arcadian clarion flutters and basso breaths, while Labarriére inflates her woody walking bass capacity to almost boogie-woogie-like thumping rhythms.

Balancing creative and chromatic inferences throughout as they glide up and down the scale, the bassist’s and clarinet’s largest canvases are colored on “You” and “Une cure “. Beginning as a string buzzing and chalumeau reed register exposition on the former, the andante movement is pierced by altissimo reed cries and whistles, although consistency is later restored with measured bass strings strokes. Labarriére’s bass line thickens in response to tension engendered by Kassap’s irregular shrills on “Une cure “. But fragmented split tones and string slaps eventually work out the dual pointillist to adagio completion by the end.

Schindler and Engl signal their strategy as early as “Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #1”. With the clarinetist’s Theremin murmurs added to the fabricated instrument’s oscillations, a polyphonic mix of snarling tremolo drones and sul ponticello string strokes marks the exposition. Soon enough though the two trade places with the clarinetist’s circularly breathed clarion squeaks replaced by an almost pastoral mellow line and Engl creating near-vocalized aviary flanges from his instrument. Tonal research continues through the remainder of the disc with constant timbral churning emphasizing numerous variations. Although Theremin whooshes and warbles are most prominent on “Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #8” for example, the main focus is on how the string player attains mandolin-like frails and seems to be stroking two string sets at once. That’s even as he suggests a story-telling melody. Energetic overblowing and systematic split tones are part of Schindler’s game plan as switches between straight and bass clarinet and from clarion to chalumeau registers. But owning to the tunes’ exploratory nature none is emphasized over the others. Thickened tones and vibrating scoops almost in the contrabass clarinet pitch may predominate on “Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #6” for instance as the reedist pushes forward without seemingly stopping for breath; or arching doits, bites and spetrofluctuation are heard on “Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #9”. Yet not only is this output alternated with inverse textures from the same reeds, but also on both Engl moves from the singing harp-like plinks he brings to other tunes to bass guitar-like stops and flanges that underline and maintain equilibrium.

Those fascinated by the progression in clarinet/bass clarinet improvisation will no doubt be absorbed in these sessions. So will many non-woodwind players who like to chart music’s progress.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Dédicaces: 1. Crinière 2. Poul an serf 3..Canterbury 4. You 5. Une cure d’inefficacité 6. Ferdinand 7. Dji-Dji 8. Asphyxie climatique 9. Jaurès

Personnel: Dédicaces: Sylvain Kassap (clarinet and bass clarinet) and Héléne Labarriére (bass)

Track Listing: Basis: 1. Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #1 2. Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #2 3. Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #3 4. Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #4 5. Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #5 6. Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #6 7. Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #7 8. Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #8 9. Basis_ B[r]uchstücke #9

Personnel: Basis: Udo Schindler (clarinets and Theremin) and Ardhi Engl (self-invented Instruments)