Velvet Revolution

October 18, 2023

Message in a Bubble
BMC CD 312

Rossi/Hess/Moran
You Break You Buy
Diskonife 007

Creating their own version of a magic (musical) triangle are two trios built around distinctive vibraphone playing. Truly international, members of the Velvet Revolution includes German tenor saxophonist Daniel Erdmann, French violinist Théo Ceccaldi and British vibist Jim Hart demonstrate their close-knit integration on Message in a Bubble. All American, but leapfrogging among a music shop’s inventory of instruments, with Peter Hess playing soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute and piccolo; Matt Moran, vibraphone, bass and cymbals; and Mick Rossi producing sounds from Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3, guzheng, drums, tambourine, harmonium, glockenspiel, prepared piano, piano, bowed cymbals, dog toy (!) and synthesizer.

Erdmann, who often works with Aki Takase, Hart, part of the Cloudmakers band and Ceccaldi, who has recorded in a variety of contexts, together touch on many sonic strands during the CD’s nine track. With the most obvious Jazz-related tone, Erdmann’s expositions include breathy expulsions with scooping and sparing elaborations, backed by an overlay of melancholy cello string wipes on “Danke, wirklich Danke!” and high-pitched reed-biting variations on “Cache”, whose thematic essence is emphasized by freylekhs-like fiddle sweeps and vibe resonation. Meanwhile the Balkan-fiddling interjections cannily disguises that the tune’s head, snaked and slid into swing time by the saxophonist, is a contrafact of Monk’s “Well You Neednt”. For his part Ceccaldi’s string expressions move from formal, almost sweetened harmonies that derive from notated music to exploratory stops, scrapes and strums that add dissonant variety and flexibility to the narratives. Secure in the middle ground. Hart intensifies expositions with slow-motor-speed and burnished accompaniment for the proper balladic feel in part, yet in contrast on tunes such as “In My Song there is a Secret”, explode into an agitated spasm of struck metal bar speed, multiple mallet reverb and emphasized syncopation that bends enough notes and changes enough tempos to fit into a Bebop combo. Crucially, the finest example of the trio’s work is on the appropriately titled “Drunk with Happiness”. Each player advances single sequences, toughens tones for duos between one another and finally deepens the narrative with slips and slides among themselves to confirm the three motifs of a distinct melody.

Moving from a Budapest studio to one in Brooklyn, the number of instruments the US trio uses makes You Break You Buy sound much different than Message in a Bubble. The expanded freedom enjoyed by multi-instrumentalists make comparison difficult among the 11 tracks. Many tracks for example balance on the studied flexibility of Hess, who has worked with Tomas Fujiwara with the vibes of Moran, who often works with John Hollenback. “Zero-Day” for instance, advances with a straight-ahead tenor saxophone exposition that’s decorated with bell-like vibe clangs and thick drum ruffs. Meanwhile, sequences on other tracks such as “Ursa Major Minor” ruminate among the scoops and doit emanating from Hess’ clarinet and bass clarinet, where the resulting tone widening is backed by irregular pulses of Moran, using bass drums and cymbals, blanketing tone whorls and clips from harmonium and distinctive glockenspiel clips from Rossi, who has worked with everyone from Phillip Glass to Kelly Clarkson.

Although eclecticism sometimes leads to a lack of focus, overall the three manage to overcome any resulting tension for a collective goal. For every extended improvisation built around ear-splitting soprano saxophone bites or shrieking clarinet split tones that meet, shifting keyboard pulses and metal bar-and-resonator rolls, there’s an equivalent melodic fillip. On those tracks Hess’ linear ballad style on different reeds is accompanied by textures ranging from harmonium drones, to downwards piano keyboard slides as well as vibraphone gap filling. The extended and atmospheric “El Dorado” offers variants of these transformations. Starting with tremolo reed warbles, these warm bass clarinet buzzes and stops are mixed with organ undulations that with vibe accents shake the narrative into a slow-moving conclusion. Each trio has something to offer the interested listener and you can probability find satisfaction with one or both.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Message: 1. Maybe Tomorrow 2. Drunk with Happiness 3. The Velvet Tango 2 4. Mumble Jumble 5. In My Song there is a Secret 6. Cache cache 7. Danke, wirklich Danke! 8. Yume 9. The Only Solution

Personnel: Message: Daniel Erdmann (tenor saxophone); Théo Ceccaldi (violin) and Jim Hart (vibraphone)

Track Listing: Break: 1. You Break You Buy 2. Panopticon 3. El Dorado 4. My Teeth Itch 5. Constants 6. Ursa Major Minor 7. Jean Rollin 8. Dragonfly (for Jon Gibson) 9. Zero-Day 10. Free Lunch 11. Youngstown

Personnel: Break: Peter Hess (soprano saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, piccolo); Matt Moran (vibraphone, bass , cymbals); Mick Rossi (Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3, guzheng, drums, tambourine, harmonium, glockenspiel, prepared piano, piano, bowed cymbals, dog toy, synthesizer)