July 22, 2014

Hipsters Gone Ballistic
Trytone TT 559-005

Cloudseed with Rafal Mazur
CTYCD 00106

Concisely highlighting the sometimes clashing sonic strands which are knitted together to produce contemporary European improvising ensembles are these CDs. Built around fluid quintets with almost identical personnel, Splatter, a UK-based combo and Spinifex, a band from the Netherlands, depend as much on the energy inherited by players raised on Rock as the fluid pacing and instrumental finesse expected from Jazz-oriented soloists. The memorable portions of each disc increase with the ability of each ensemble’s members to make sure any single sonic element doesn’t overwhelm the others.

Splatter’s line-up consists of Britons Noel Taylor on clarinet and drummer Tom Greenhalgh; alto saxophonist Anna Kaluza, who is part of the London Improvisers Orchestra with Taylor, is German; and guitarist Pedro Velasco is Portuguese. Pole Rafal Mazur, who uses a specially designed acoustic bass guitar, joins them here. Substitute Gijs Levelt’s trumpet for the clarinet and Spinifex’s instrumentation is almost identical and its make up equally international. Levelt who also performs with De Amsterdam Klezmer Band, and guitarist Jasper Stadhouders in Ken Vandermark’s Made to Break quartet, are both Dutch. Alto saxophonist Tobias Klein, who also composes contemporary notated music, is German as is drummer Philipp Moser. Bassist Gonçalo Almeida, also a member of Lama, is Portuguese.

Unlike Splatter’s consistency of vision, the fervour of Spinifex’s performance frankly depends on whether the five are interpreting a Klein, Almeida or Levelt composition. All feature coagulated Rock overtones, but the distribution of dynamics differs. Klein’s “Rost” for instance appears to be the best paced tune. Ironically a feature for the trumpeter, Levelt’s mellow brassiness, Almeida’s walking bass line and straight-forward comping from Stadhouders bring in inferences from flamenco to mainstream Jazz. When the composer smoothly tongues the theme, it’s as if Paul Desmond has connected with Latin-Rock. “Flying Object Fort Worth-Umeå- Sheffield” is more expansive still, as the parallel currents from Klein’s altissimo licks and Stadhouders’ e-bow rubbing cross, deconstruct, then eventually reassemble the exposition. Racing to a crescendo, their thumping face-off is played out while the others riff supportively. The variant which is the title tune appears to owe as much to ProgRock as Jazz, yet along with the locomotion-like forward motion there’s also a sense of sardonic fun intuitive in many Dutch-based bands.

Levelt’s “Waste Land Jam” somehow manages the difficult task of embedding James Chance-like sax squeals within a melody that depends on Stadhouders’ command of Middle Eastern rhythms. Blasting the tune apart before the performance become too sludgy, the trumpeter’s gracefully moderato timbre redefines the interface. The method behind this reconfiguration become clear on the final piece, “Sre Valli Devasenapathe”, composed by Carnatic cinema avator Papanasam Sivan. The arrangement isolates the polyrhythms of the original in such a way that its validity as a Jazz-Rock composition can’t be challenged.

Cloudseed lacks equivalent differentiation on its 13 tracks. The challenge exposed and met is how the hardened Rock-orientation of the band’s bassist, guitarist and drummer can be moderated or subverted by the criss-cross timbres of moody chalumeau clarinet tones and morose alto sax; or vice versa. Some pieces such as “Pond Life” and “Fog on Ice” are so stacked with moderated reed textures that no matter how many platinum-hard drum beats are sounded the tune remain all atmosphere, no movement.

More impressively there are points at which the intertwining of contrasting reed tones as on “Yah Boo Sucks” or from the stretching of equivalent lines from Taylor and Kaluza on “To Boldly Go” re-orient the themes. Improvisational – or is it compositional – sophistication then produces excitement resulting from the push-pull between the horns’ and the others’ definition of the tunes. This doesn’t take place in an atmosphere of whey-faced experimentation however. As a matter of fact a track such as “Home Time”, which ends with the reeds trading fours after an avant-Rock drum’n’bass clattering and some firecracker-like explosions from whistling staccato guitar, conveys a sense of entertainment more expected from the Dutch than the English.

If there are detours along the journey, it’s that the band members seem to imagine that the baker’s dozen of pieces have more of narrative than they actually do. Gentling or whispering woodwind asides don’t really moderate the thicker tones as much as imagined. And when the final “The Cat’s Sweet Dream” exits with wobbly and spacey near-ambient texture, it’s more like another thematic experimental than a proper summation. Overall with both of these sessions evolving with more multi-national cooperation than any action of the EU, there’s a lot of good music to be found on both CDs. Yet neither quite reaches the highest rank.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Cloudseed: 1. To Boldly Go 2. No You Don’t, Yes I Will 3. Arise Ye Starvelings 4. Pond Life 5. Bronco Beat 6. Fog on Ice 7. Yah Boo Sucks 8. Home Time 9. Inglenook 10. Slam Dunk11. Cocoa & Slippers Jive 12. Stag Beetle Waltz 13. The Cat’s Sweet Dream

Personnel: Cloudseed: Noel Taylor (clarinet); Anna Kaluza (alto saxophone); Pedro Velasco (guitar); Rafal Mazur (bass guitar) and Tom Greenhalgh (drums)

Track Listing: Hipsters: 1. Hipsters Gone Ballistic 2. Boo 3. V 4. Joint Strike Focker 5. Rost 6. Lotigus 7. Flying Object Fort Worth-Umeå- Sheffield 8. Waste Land Jam 9. Sre Valli Devasenapathe

Personnel: Hipsters: Gijs Levelt (trumpet); Tobias Klein (alto saxophone and clarinets); Jasper Stadhouders (guitar); Goncalo Almeida (bass) and Philipp Moser (drums)