The trio of reeds, double bass and piano has a long and distinguished history in advanced jazz and other improvisational musics. From Jimmy Guiffre’s innovative trios to the more recent trios of Paul Bley, Evan Parker and Barre Phillips, or Ken Vandemark, Havard Wiik and Haker Flaton, the drummerless trio has the dynamic range and palette of timbres to produce a kind of improvised chamber music of introspection and expression. Istinti Ragionati, a trio recording featuring Roman reed player Marco Colonna on clarinet and bass clarinet, and the Sardinians Silvia Corda and Adriano Orrù on piano/prepared piano and double bass, respectively, is an outstanding demonstration of the range, subtlety and power this type of ensemble is capable of.
Although fully improvised, the music shows the kind of balance and organization ordinarily associated with small-ensemble, composed chamber music. This is most immediately apparent in the trio’s supple control of texture, which arranges sounds in order to allow space for individual and ensemble passages to develop in an uncluttered environment. While often abstract, these passages retain a grounding in melody even when the vocabulary turns atonal and the dynamics veer into the heated expressionism of free jazz. Colonna often favors a long line that moves easily between pantonality and a lyrical modalism; when not providing harmonic support for tonal episodes, Orrù takes the bass into the rich territory defined by free counterpoint and pure timbre. As the hinge between wind and strings, Corda deserves special mention. She’s capable of binding the two other voices with suggestive harmonic fragments, or braiding them by serving as a third line within the polyphonic whole. In addition, her harmonic clusters and phrasing do much to flavor the group sound with the cerebral astringency of the classical avant-garde.
This is superbly thought out improvised music whose spontaneous formal sense makes the title—loosely meaning “rational instincts”—seem particularly well-chosen.
Blind Date Quartet: Blind Date Quartet [GPE Records]
The Blind Date Quartet—named for the fact that their first gig together was something of a blind date, in that it was the first time they’d played together as a quartet—is a free improv ensemble notable for an approach that demonstrates the wide range of possibilities open to instruments most often associated with the orchestral or chamber music traditions.
The group, consisting of Angelika Sheridan on flutes, violinist Ulrike Stortz, cellist Scott Roller, and John Hollenbeck on percussion, makes full use of their instruments’ broad spectrum of colors. This chromatic richness is particularly apparent in the timbral contrast of violin and flute. Though both instruments cover the same general pitch range, the difference in timbres makes for a sound relationship at once oppositional and reciprocal. Although not often found in the company of these chamber music instruments, Hollenbeck’s complement of drumkit and other percussion adds an essential element often manifesting as an edge or toughness balancing out the more naturally lyrical sounds of the flute and violin. Added to the mix is a cello that frequently contributes the piquant seasoning of fragmented tone sequences and extended techniques.
The recording opens with the aptly titled Speed Date, which serves as a brief, spiky prelude to what follows. Tarentology’s opening melody features Angelika Sheridan’s flute, which settles in over a drone rich in overtones from Scott Roller’s cello and a galloping underlying rhythm from percussionist John Hollenbeck. Hollenbeck’s playing in fact often serves as the backbone to the pieces, as for example in Update or in Harvesting, where snare and brushes work to create a propulsive feeling. This is enhanced by Ulrike Stortz’s pizzicato violin and Roller’s cello, which alternates between pizzicato and arco figures; gradually, the piece evolves into a conversation between flute and cello. Percussion again sets the tone for Dry Bone Mobile, a clacking, skittering piece full of staccato strings and struck things that sounds exactly like the object named in the title. Truth or Dare, by contrast, opens with well-spaced stabs of strings and flute and develops into a kind of improvised serialism notable for changes in tempo and mood afforded by the musicians’ deeply attentive interplay. The textural pointillism of Sequel brings this satisfying set to a close.
Tribil Trio [oz054]
The Tribil Trio, made up of Sandro Carta on trumpet, Michele Spanghero on double bass and Marta Vigna on harp, create improvised music that draws its inspiration from recent avant garde art music for small ensembles. The juxtaposition of harp, double bass and trumpet is uncommon, but the use of brass with plucked and bowed strings allows the trio to explore intriguing contrasts in sound color and duration. Their self-titled release on the Ozkye netlabel consists of three tracks of various lengths, each of which offers a kind of polyphonic pointillism leavened with timbral experimentation. The approach is established immediately in Filicem, the release’s opening track, which features a low-frequency buzzing that could be prepared double bass and/or harp over which a long-toned melody floats. This is followed by Psycho Lullaby, an episodic, dirge-like piece in which the three instruments speak in their more conventional voices. The longest and final track, Rain on Mangroves, is a spacious piece that places a plaintive trumpet melody over bowed harmonics and stabs of the harp. These three efforts add up to a worthy experiment in blending disparate instrumental voices not usually heard alone together.