August 22, 2022

Love in the Form of Sacred Outrage
ESP 5073

Hydra Ensemble
New Wave of Jazz nwoj0051

Reformatting and reimaging the string ensemble – one of the key configuration of Western music – is what unites these absorbing sessions. Coming from different countries and reconstituting the groups in unique ways is what makes each session equally fascinating.

With an immersion in notated and aleatoric music is the Rotterdam-based Hydra Ensemble. Its make-up includes two cellists: Swiss Nina Hitz and Croatian Lucija Gregov, Portuguese double bassist Gonçalo Almeida and Dutch electronics artist Rutger Zuydervelt. All have familiarity with the improv world, with the bassist also a member of bands like Spinifex. Led by violist Melanie Dyer, who has worked with the Sun Ra Arkestra, and Baba Andrew Lamb as well as symphony orchestras, the New York-based WeFreeStrings (WFS) includes violinists Gwen Laster, whose experience includes Anthony Braxton’s ensembles and Charles Burnham, who has played with Jason Kao Hwang; cellist Alexander Waterman, involved with New music and installations; bassist Ken Filiano, who has backed everyone from Larry Ochs to Bill Dixon; and percussionist Michael Wimberly who has worked with Charles Gayle.

Just because WFS includes a bass and drums team doesn’t make its selection jazzier than Hydra’s. In fact two of Vistas’ four tracks are played by a core trio of Laster, Dyer and Filiano. The demarcation point is that the US group accepts the African-American swing tradition in its music, while the Dutch-based one tempers its free improv with electro-acoustic echoes. Actually the WFS trio selections are instructive since they show how the romantic form characterized by the strings can be readjusted. With Filiano’s power plucks projected with guitar-like facility and the violin and viola in contrapuntal intimacy, both strength and subtlety are emphasized. While Laster’s and Dyer’s dynamics are expressed in high pitches with spectacular spiccato, warm strokes still preserve the interface. Double bass thumps and mallet driven drum pitter patter characterize the sextet tracks, with frequent double and triple counterpoint. “Propagating the Same Type of Madness, that uh…” shows that with rhythm section bedrock motion, the remaining strings can shimmer and shake from andante and moderato expression up to elevated pitches and prestissimo without fragmenting or upsetting flowing expressiveness.

WFS and Dyer’s major statement is the almost 26-minute, six-part “Baraka Suite”. But even here the balance between lyrical harmony and syncopated percussiveness is expressive of both European as American forms, no matter how Black Nationalist Amiri Baraka might have protested that interpretation. Segmenting the expositions initial low pitches with bell shaking and affiliated string harmonies, hard double bass thwacks, drum raps and treble string squeaks move the piece into a unified swing interlude with a mid-range melody that in Dyer’s impassioned strokes is torqued like a Mingus melody. Drum rumbles and pizzicato bass plucks confirm the group groove at the half way point at same time as cello, violin and viola glissandi transform into strained and barbed string strikes that insert jagged strokes into unison harmonies. A subsequent motif that has spiccato string lines ascending to sky-high pitches undulates alongside drum paradiddles and cymbal shakes to reach a group climax. Descending string harmonies are integrated into a unison crescendo until rough tones and smooth hints complete and highlight the composition’s typically American musical integration.

Although Vistas is far removed from mainstream Jazz, its electro-acoustic, string-oriented five-part suite still reflects the music in its broadest sense. That’s because the thumping vibrations and sul tasto slices from Almeida set up one paradigm, while the crackling and droning voltage  pulses set up another with the two cellos negotiating in-between. These sul tasto string expositions squeak like bed springs alongside Zuydervelt’s live processed electronic hisses and crackles during “Vista II”  until they join with the double bass for speedier cross pulses that usher in more extended and swifter techniques. Layering Almeida’s stentorian plucks with shifting cello techniques. including string loosening and shakes, unison allegrissimo slices moves past electronic wave forms to reach a penultimate sequence that lacerates the narrative with triple stopping and col legno woody slaps. As ring modulator-like clanging and intermittent oscillated whistles further fragment the theme, it’s up to mandolin-like frails from the cellist to reassert a linear melody. The concluding “Vista V” firmly knits these strands. Measuring programmed animalistic howls and near-verbal mumbles with more formalized unison string patterns, both contributions to the improvisation are highlighted. Stretching the exemplar still further in the final sequence, the tempo skyrockets to prestissimo, the cellos twang and stretch string strops in contrapuntal challenges to twists and vibrating voltage tones as stolid double bass stops hold together timbral differences until the group improvisation stops, starts again and fades away.

String ensembles may be as generic as ballads to Western Music, yet these group show how much beyond the expected can be accomplished with forethought and skill

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Love: 1. Baraka Suite [for Amiri Baraka] Mtv 1. Mediations on Earth Mtv 2. In the Theatre Mtv 3. Who? Who? Who? Mtv 4. Stride Out and Dig  Mtv 5. Few Worlds Ahead Mtv 6. There Me Go  2. Love in the Form of Sacred Outrage [for Fannie Lou Hamer 3. Pretty Flowers 4. Propagating the Same Type of Madness, that uh… [for Fred Hampton]

Personnel: Love: Tracks 1., 4.:  Charles Burnham and Gwen Laster (violins); Melanie Dyer (viola); Alexander Waterman (cello); Ken Filiano (bass) and Michael Wimberly (percussion) Tracks 2., 3.: Laster, Dyer, Filiano

Track Listing: Vistas: 1. Vista I 2. Vista II 3. Vista III 4. Vista IV 5. Vista V

Personnel: Vistas: Lucija Gregov and Nina Hitz (cellos);  Gonçalo Almeida (bass) and Rutger Zuydervelt (electronics)