The twelve relatively brief pieces making up The Sounding Door, a trio work by Guy-Frank Pellerin, Matthias Boss and Marcello Magliocchi, represent a variety of inspired chamber improvisation grounded in the textural multiplicity afforded by similarly pitched but timbrally different instruments.
Although each participant is a multi-instrumentalist—Pellerin plays three different types of saxophone as well as bone flute and clarinet; Boss contributes violin, flute and voice; and Magliocchi plays guitar, percussion and a sound-producing sculpture created by M. Andrea Dami—the tracks are never crowded but instead leave space for each individual instrument to develop its voice in tandem with the others.
Most of the pieces focus on the interplay of Pellerin’s reeds and flute with Boss’s violin. The juxtaposition of the violin with the soprano and sopranino saxophones creates a musical tension built on the simultaneous convergence of pitches and divergence of timbre, which often serve to emphasize the brightness of the violin. By contrast, the track Incertitude Rêvée puts the violin against the clarinet’s lower register, the latter taking on the unlikely function of a pseudo-cello in an updated continuo. Un Bicchiere di Spumante features plucked violin and baritone saxophone against a shimmering background of cymbals and other metallic percussion—quite possibly a case of the sculpture audibly asserting itself in the mix.
Improvisation can be, among other things, a kind of spontaneous composition. Two improvisational trios whose common element is Sardinian double bassist Adriano Orrù are exquisitely aware of this and play accordingly. The Palimpsest Trio, made up of Orrù on double bass, Silvia Corda on piano, and Paulo Chagas on reeds, and the trio Orrù Mar Rocha, in which violinist Maria do Mar and clarinetist/bass clarinetist Luiz Rocha join Orrù, take approaches to improvisation which have in common a grounding in compositional principles, while differing in the details.
The Palimpsest Trio’s concern for compositional values—for choosing and putting elements into balanced relationships—is apparent even in the title of their new release, Stanze. A stanza (plural “stanze”) is a compositional unit in poetry as well as Italian for “room” or “stopping place;” the common meaning is of boundary or limit, and by extension a container of discrete measure which can function as a constituent part among parts comprising an appropriately proportioned whole. Terms like “proportion,” “room” and “balance” bring to mind architectural properties. And in fact the nine tracks making up Stanze are permeated by an intuitive concept of musical architecture.
For Orrù, Corda and Chagas, architectural balance takes multiple forms. First is the basic push and pull of very different timbres and articulations holding the strings, piano and reeds in an elastic tension. Sounds are placed with care beside, beneath and above one another, resulting in textures that highlight timbral contrast or concord as the moment requires. Corda’s piano is mostly a sparse, staccato source of vertically-stacked tones; Chagas’ legato lines add a fluid, vocal quality to much of the music; Orrù’s use of bowhair and wood, fingers and foreign objects to excite the strings builds a polychromatic bridge between percussion and wind. The evocative Aubade, with its modal sax melody, is a good example of how this dynamic plays out.
Just as important as timbral balance is the balance between filled and empty spaces. Orrù, Corda and Chagas use staggered and coincident rests as fundamental elements for collating phrases into larger, collective compositional units. This is evident on all tracks, but most especially on Enjambements, where open spaces play as significant an overall structural and expressive role as sounds.
In contrast to the Palimpsest Trio’s use of substantial blocks of empty space as structural elements, Orrù, Mar and Rocha build their performances more out of the timbral interplay of instruments that overlap substantially in sound color. Over the course of two pieces recorded live in Portugal earlier this year, the three weave an often dense texture of contrasting and complementary colors and articulations. Their instruments’ capacity for braiding long, sustained tones is demonstrated right from the opening of the first piece. The arco double bass and violin sometimes sound like a single stringed instrument of unusually wide range, while the registral coincidence and timbral similarities of bowed bass and bass clarinet are capable of blending into one seamless sound. At the same time, the three are more than happy to explore the unique sound profiles of their individual voices, creating often intense passages of starkly opposed timbres that effectively play off of the surrounding moments of instrumental confluence: Broken figures emerge from a smooth field, which eventually reabsorbs them.
Despite outward differences, what each of these pieces by both trios share is a meticulous placement of sound and a nuanced internal balance among three independent voices. Close listening is the prerequisite for doing this successfully, and as both of these recordings amply demonstrate, that is a skill that these five fine improvisers have in abundance.
The rarefaction of the title of this collection—a lessening of density or pressure in a medium, as when a sound wave passes through air—is meant as an overall metaphor for the music it contains. All of the pieces reflect flautist/composer Jane Rigler’s interest in the rarefied, individual sound properties of music at an elemental level, where the basic building blocks of material, gesture, timbre and density can be foregrounded and formed into independent structures of—often quite literally—breathtaking subtlety.
The tracks, consisting of nine relatively brief pieces and one longer suite, were fully improvised by Rigler and a small ensemble made up of Janet Feder, Shoko Nagai, and Satoshi Takeishi, in various combinations and on various instruments. Except for one improvisation for Rigler on solo piccolo and one duet for Rigler again on piccolo and Nagai on accordion, which are presented as they were played, the performances were reworked by Rigler in the studio through editing or overdubbing in order to emphasize some aspect of the sound or to infuse compositional structure.
In the solo pieces for herself Rigler shows how she can dig deeply into music’s formative factors to come up with compositions focused on micro-level phenomena. She takes, for example, the hollow of the breath as it explodes into and travels across the mouthpiece of the flute or piccolo, shucking off the skin of pitch and leaving the inner husk of air rushing through and around the metal tube. The multi-tracked Pulsar 1 for overdubbed piccolos plays with the microtonal discrepancies between the voices—creating a choric effect for one, as it were—while the similarly layered Pulsar 2 takes as its subject matter the low, resonating drones of bass flute, voice and electronics.
The four quartet pieces Rewind, Externally Rarefied, Literally Rarefied and Rewound are essays in the timbral interplay of flutes, prepared strings, percussion, keyboards and electronics, often sparsely textured in order to allow each individual instrument to display the grain of its own voice. Sparseness—a rarefaction of performance–is in fact an overriding aesthetic value for all of these performances, which seem in the end to want to go beyond the physics of sound and to portray instead the coming into being of the music-bearing gesture against a background of emptiness.
Barcelona’s Alex Reviriego is a powerful young double bassist with an impressive command of advanced technique and an exploratory attitude toward the timbral possibilities inherent in his instrument. His solo release, Els gats gordos també tenen problemes, draws on these techniques as well as on a complement of preparations to produce a sound that–first impressions to the contrary—relies on no overdubs or electronic enhancements of the bass’s natural voice.
The sonic complexity Reviriego is able to summon is evidenced from the very first track. Setting up a contrast between brighter and more muted colors, Reviriego plucks dark arpeggios from prepared strings while simultaneously playing a harsh, scraping arco. This solo polyphony is a hallmark of his playing, which often has him plucking or hammering the strings with his left hand while drawing the bow with his right. Even in the absence of preparations Reviriego’s technical range facilitates access to an expanded palette of tone colors and textures bracketed, as on the track TCCPFP, between a dark, often rough arco in the lower register on the one side and stridently shimmering harmonics on the other. Some of the tracks explore a more limited technical or sonic field: Medusas errants, for example, is like an etude in pressure bowing on prepared strings. But all is not a matter of aggressive attack and extended technique here; Reviriergo also shows a gentler side on Canço Pop, whose pensive melodicism is carried on a simple and straightforward pizzicato.
Houston’s Rothko Chapel—an austere room lit with natural light and dedicated to the display of fourteen of Mark Rothko’s late, subdued color field paintings—is a congenial site for improvised performances by the international trio Mural. The group, made up of Norwegian Kim Myhr on guitar; percussionist Ingar Zach, a Norwegian now living in Spain; and Australian Jim Denley on alto saxophone and flutes, has played there twice before the April 2013 date recorded and issued on this three-CD set. (A previous performance, from March 2010, was recorded and released in 2011 by the Rothko Chapel’s own publishing concern.)
Reflecting the immersive, contemplative atmosphere of the Chapel, Tempo captures the last three-quarters or so of Mural’s over four-hour-long continuous performance. Although each of the three discs can be listened to by itself, the music’s full effect and the group’s deftness at developing sonic textures over long cycles only becomes forcefully apparent when all three are heard in sequence during a single listening.
The release’s title says something essential about the music given not only its expansive duration but the way it sets out a concatenation of sound events coming into and going out of existence in time. Mural’s pacing and arrangement of sound into alternating fields and figures create a sense of musical time imagined as having been precipitated into a narrative sequence with all of its peaks and valleys, its alternations of episodes of activity and rest. Through subtle, largely timbral playing Mural collapses time into a single moment present in a low-frequency sound field extending in all directions; through more urgent, rhythmically driven sections—led by Myhr’s energetic pulse on guitar—the dynamic of time’s passage is made clear.
Throughout it all Myhr, Zach and Denley have an intuitive rapport that doesn’t lapse even over such a long period of playing. Zach’s bells, gongs, drums and pitched percussion are put to good coloristic use over the entire course of the performance; Denley’s sax and flutes can be plaintive, abrasive, abstract or voice-like as the moment requires. Myhr is a strong ensemble player who can, when needed, push the group with chordal ostinatos or an insistent, jangling strum just as easily has he can bind the music during its quieter passages.
Renga is a form of linked, short verse written by two or more poets together. André Darius and Paul Mimlitsch creatively interpret the idea of the collaborative series of brief pieces with their duo release titled, appropriately enough, Renga. The fourteen short tracks—each averaging about two minutes in length—are improvisational miniatures for Mimlitsch’s bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet and Darius’ electric upright bass and voice. The music is largely a kind of constantly moving, engagingly free lyricism with frequent excursions into pure sound and timbre, particularly on the tracks featuring Darius’ vocalizations. Mimlitsch’s reedy low register growls and ruminations contrast nicely with the brighter sounding yet similarly low-pitched electric upright bass.
AMN Reviews: Gianni Mimmo & Daniel Levin – Turbulent Flow [Amirani AMRN032]; Gianni Mimmo & Alison Blunt – Lasting Ephemerals [Amirani AMRN037-LP1]
Two unusual and refreshing duets for reeds and strings, both of them featuring soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo.
Mimmo, a resident of Pavia in northern Italy, started out on tenor saxophone and passed through alto and baritone before settling on the soprano after hearing Steve Lacy play live with Bolognese poet Adriano Spatola. Although Lacy was an important early formative force in Mimmo’s development, the latter’s influences and aesthetic grounding go beyond jazz and even free improvisation to embrace contemporary art music as well as visual and media arts and, perhaps more importantly, poetry. Mimmo’s playing reflects an interest in the symmetries between voice and the soprano saxophone—both of which are powered and limited by the measure of breath—and is centered on a melodicism always on the verge of alluding to speech and its variable rhythms.
The aptly titled Turbulent Flow pairs Mimmo with the dynamic American cellist Daniel Levin. All nine tracks masterfully realize the concept of the duet as being as much about setting voices against each other—in the abrasions of parallel planes rubbing surfaces, or in the direct confrontation of collision on the perpendicular—as it is of having them blend harmoniously. Conflict and complementarity are built into the weave of the interplay between the two, with Levin’s muscular, physical engagement with timbre framing Mimmo’s buoyant complexes of sound. Both players build and relieve tension through a variety of textural strategies such as layering rapid runs up and down the sax on top of thickly impastoed cello chords and glisses; opening up transparent spaces through contrastingly quiet contrapuntal passages; mounting a flurry of upper register notes on the soprano over the cello’s obliquely walking pizzicato. This is about the beauty of angles, some of whose edges are quite sharp.
If the sonic geometry of Turbulent Flow is broadly planar, the interplay between Mimmo and UK violinist Alison Blunt is one of supple and intertwining lines. This set of duets, recorded at St. Leonard’s Shoreditch Church in London in the summer of 2013, embodies a quieter and more reflective mood than that of Turbulent Flow. Much of the music is a matter of putting line against line. Both players shape melodies out of spontaneously constructed tone rows, with Blunt moving smoothly between single note lines and harmonically rich—and sometimes unsettling–multiple stops. Color contrasts between reed and string are largely supplementary to the improvised polyphony, but when the two instruments overlap in pitch, particularly in the upper register, each unhesitatingly asserts its own identity with stridence.
As the one constant binding both of these very different recordings together, Mimmo’s voice inevitably is thrown into high relief. It consistently coheres around an often free-flowing line that has at its core a lyrical logic that keeps it rooted in song, even as it moves through pantonal note sequences, registral leaps and serrated rhythms. Extended techniques such as key clicks and overblowing serve somewhat the same function in regard to the main line as backlighting for an object—they make clearer the essential profile of the thing in question, which for Mimmo is always the melody.