Adam James Wilson

July 27, 2002

No label No #

Terrie Ex & Ab Baars
Atavistic ALP 130 CD

Finding something original to say using the most popular instrument in the world — the guitar — has become progressively more difficult over the past few years. With the six string utilized by everyone from rock journeymen to folk performers and classical recitalists, improvised musicians have to work out new strategies fore themselves.

Luckily, especially in its electric configuration, the guitar is versatile enough to respond to different touches as the youngish string slingers on these CDs demonstrate. New Yorker Adam James Wilson’s disc is a group essay in microtonal dissonance. While Terrie Ex, from Holland, hooks up with reedist Ab Baars to demonstrate how unadorned punk-style guitar can fuse with free jazz woodwinds.

Wilson, until recently a Boston resident, is aiming for pan-tonal, spontaneous group compositions. That’s sort of a convoluted way of saying that the aim of the 12 numbers on this CD is to mix traditional modality with atonality, as is found in much of the work of reedman/New England Conservatory teacher Joe Manner, one of Wilson’s acknowledged influences.

Dissonance creates a larger yet quieter sound. Although four other musicians participated in the sessions, only two — flutist Arto Artinian and violinist Katt Hernandez — appear to assert themselves on nearly every track. Conservatory-trained pianist Jonathan Vincent hardly makes his presence felt, while percussionist Aaron Trant, who frequently plays solo recitals and premieres so-called serious compositions, never resorts to anything as déclassé as a regular beat.

Bulgarian-born, New York-based Artinian, whose formal studies of composition and computer music lead him to pure improv, often utilizes extended techniques of high-pitched aviary peeps and claxon-like reverberations, often bringing to mind Robert Dick. Taking into account the change from saxophone to flute, he, Hernandez and Wilson sound like the British improvisers John Butcher (soprano saxophone), Phil Durrant (violin) and John Russell (acoustic guitar) on “Stark”. This too is one of the few times Vincent is really audible, producing some dark, left-handed rumbles.

“The Slow Crucible” on the other hand, finds the flutist, who at one point studied in Bulgaria, playing very non-Western sounding lines, which appear to be more Carnatic than Balkan. Here the guitarist’s tuning experiments make it appear as if he’s tinkling on a celesta. Meanwhile “Two Plus One”, which is a flute-guitar duet despite the title, is one of those numbers this side of stasis, where the clunk of individual notes is crystal clear as is the air hiss, creating a piccolo-like sound from Artinian.

Hernandez is a former Detroiter, who has also played with other young experimenters like pianist Dan DeChellis and drummer Jeff Arnal. Here she frequently uses a taut, mewling tone to better mix with Wilson’s single-note forays. On “Turn Away,” however, when the indistinct plinks and clinks of the guitar are succeeded by some muscular fretting, the fiddler rips out some uneven cat scratches as the flute probes atonality. The effect is if the band had suddenly turned to Heavy Metal.

That noise-making side of the group is even more evident on “Under Your Thumb”, with a title that could, be a tribute to or a dig at the Rolling Stones. Hernandez begins harshly scraping away like an eneverated Billy Bang, Trant bears down on his drum set and Wilson produces a buzz of pure feedback. Only Artinian continues sounding constant flute arpeggios. The best way to find this disc, by the way, is on the guitarist’s Web site:

If Wilson treats his electric instrument as a microtonal paintbrush, then Ex wields his axe as a sound source. Part of Holland’s best-known anarcho punk band, whose members, à la The Ramones, insist their last names are all Ex, the guitarist’s jazz connections came about long before he started playing. His jazz-loving father named him after American vibist Terry Gibbs.

Ex (the band) first collaborated with manic Dutch drummer Han Bennink; later (guitarist) Ex recorded a strong duo disc with the drummer. Following that, the plectrumist put together this CD with Baars, best known for his membership in the ICP Orchestra. With all the tunes except for the title track lasting between 35 seconds and four minutes, the result is not unlike what a meeting between saxophonist Evan Parker and guitarist Johnny Ramone could have produced. It’s loud, abrasive and riveting.

Accelerator of the ICP engine with his distorted sax overtones and stuttering clarinet lines, Baars usually takes centrestage here. Spewing out trills and multiphonics from his horns, the reedman spurs Ex to match his circular breathing and the guitarist does with bell-ringing tones, rat-like string scratches and amplified power chords.

Not all of this recital finds the two ranging from microtones to maxi tweets however. Sometimes Ex’s guitar, intentionally or not, threatens to go out-of-tune, and on “Yselyk”, for example, his echoing tones suggest a steel guitar that’s being investigated by a denizen of the Third World. Then on “Grameel”, Baars’s prickly alto cries are met with steady guitar strumming that sounds as if it came from a Western movie soundtrack.

Both “M. Ali I” and “M. Ali II”, which seem to be named for heavyweight Muhammad Ali, which offer consistent and intense low-toned vibratos from the reedist on clarinet, may live up to their honoree, as Ex appears to be punching to strings to get a particular sound. Then on “Pets -> Knerp” the guitarist hammers on his bass strings as Baars plays, framing his solo in ascending and descending single note architecture.

All of this seems to be a preliminary bout for the title track — shades of Ali — where the saxist overblows hard enough to produce two separate sounds simultaneously, soon answered by guitar power chords. When Baars squeals away at the top of his instrument’s range, then dive bombs into the sax’s bottom notes, Ex moves between hearty chording and stroking steel strings for a unique timbre. Finally the piece ends as Baars produces a child-like trill backed by what sound like Ex’s palms hitting the strings.

All the musicians on these CDs may be young, but there’s nothing childish about their performances. Both discs offer different solutions to the challenge of creating unique guitar sounds.

– Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Unify: 1. Unify 2. Steam Engine 3. Brooklyn 4. Cry for Me 5. Somnambulus 6. Diminuendo 7. Stark 8. Two Plus one 9. Turn Away 10. The Slow Crucible 11. Under Your Thumb 12. Until The Beginning

Personnel: Arto Artinian (flute); Katt Hernandez (violin); Adam James Wilson (fretless guitar); Jonathan Vincent (piano); Aaron Trant (drums)

Track Listing: Hef: 1. Oud Over 2. De Yzeren Tulp 3. Stokdutter 4. Hamergaar 5. Yselyk 6. Termiet 7. Kryzeltamden I 8. Kryzeltamden II 9. M. Ali I 10. M. Ali II 11. Grameel 12. Grampel 13. Pets -> Knerp 14. Hef

Personnel: Hef: Ab Baars (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Terrie Ex (guitar)