AMN Reviews: Tom Swafford & Zachary Swanson – Scythe Paths Through the Nettles [Bandcamp]

The music on Scythe Paths Through the Nettles, an album of free improvisations for violin and double bass, is unlike much freely improvised music for strings. Violinist Tom Swafford and double bassist Zachary Swanson play with a strong bias toward incorporating elements of song, sometimes explicitly and sometimes not, into improvisations that are free-ranging yet remain grounded in more traditional forms of music. This isn’t surprising, given that the two met while playing together in an old-time string band. There’s some of the old-time feel to Swafford’s sound—even given some passing episodes of extended technique, his playing shows its roots in fiddling as well as in jazz. Swanson mostly plays a robust pizzicato, although he switches to bow on Spokeshave, Rasp, and Scraper for chording as well as single lines, and on Shoulder Yoke and Harrow Down the Clouds, the most “avant” of the duets. On pieces like By the Fork and the Flail, with its sublimating swing and walking basslines, Swafford and Swanson make explicit contact with jazz; Dark Carlyle and Rear Brake Caliper hint at a chord progression.

Scythe Paths Through the Nettles was recorded in a warehouse in Brooklyn and possibly as a result, its sound quality is on the raw side. Still, it’s an enjoyable listen and presents a unique perspective on unpremeditated music.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Armaroli-Schiaffini-Sjöström – Duos & Trios [Leo Records CD LR892]

Duos and Trios by vibraphonist Sergio Armaroli, trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini and soprano and sopranino saxophonist Harri Sjöström is a free-ranging set of improvised music for small groups made in Biella in Italy at the invitation of Armaroli. A frequent musical partner of Schiaffini’s, Armaroli called Sjöström in from Berlin to join him and Schiaffini; these three trios and nine duos were the result. The duos are framed by the trios, which make up the opening track as well as the final two tracks. It’s the duos that provide the album’s backbone and aesthetic as well as literal center. Armaroli and Sjöström may have been new to each other, but their chemistry is unmistakably good and consequently their interplay is assured and coherent. Armaroli is quick to respond to Sjöström’s fleet, fragmentary lines with single-note runs in parallel rhythms, or to set out a foundation of restlessly moving chords. When Schiaffini joins them, the addition of his voice rounds out the collective sound with a robust presence in the lower register and a layer of contrapuntal complexity. Like Sjöström, Schiaffini makes liberal use of extended techniques; his brassy timbres complement Sjöström’s own sharp-edged tone in an unexpected family resemblance.

Daniel Barbiero