Jeff Snyder and Sam Pluta have been working together since 2006 as the duo exclusiveOR. With Snyder performing on analog synthesizer and Pluta on live electronics. Their work explores the intersection of composition and improvisation with live electronics. For “modules” the duo is joined by some of today’s leading creative musicians: Architeuthis Walks on Land (AWOL) which is Amy Cimini – viola and Katherine Young – bassoon, and members of ICE – Peter Evans, Nate Wooley – trumpets, Ryan Muncy – saxophones, Weston Olencki – trombone and Ross Karre – percussion.
“modules” was commissioned in 2014 by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) as part of their ICELab Series. It is a concert length work that utilizes both improvisation and strictly notated material. The piece covers a lot of ground as it flows through its fifteen modules in which seemingly opposing materials (pitch, sound and noise) and methodologies (composition, improvisation and live electronics) seamlessly interact with one another to create a unified whole.
The fifteen “modules” are comprised of five composed by Pluta, five by Snyder and five improvisations from various small groupings of the ensemble. Each of these tracks or modules has its own distinct character, color and instrumentation. Pluta’s modules tend to be more aggressive and noisier, while Snyder’s are often more harmonically focused. The improvised sections are all sonically oriented and very original. Despite the contrasts within each module they really seem connected and many segments flow into one another in a conversational like manner.
Here is an earlier performance with brass quartet, analog synthesizer, live electronics, and percussion. It’s interesting to hear both of these versions because it makes clear the significant contributions that improvisers can bring to pieces like “modules”.
For those that need some kind of categorization I would put “modules” under the banner of “creative music”; in that the sound worlds that the composers and improvisers create, freely explore many different contemporary and historical musical ideas without any allegiance or deference to any of the “school’s” associated with these ideas. This is a trend that has been growing for quite some time and I think the composers and improvisers on “modules” are among the best of a new generation of musicians continuing this exploration.
Chris De Chiara
More than any other kind of music, collective free improvisation succeeds or fails largely on the strength of the chemistry binding its players together. It isn’t unusual for a free improvisational ensemble to play focused, coherent music its first time out, given a felicitous combination of sensibilities and skills. Live at The Battery Books & Music by the Los Angeles area Coldwater Trio—guitarist Haskel Joseph, trumpeter Bruce Friedman and cellist Michael Intriere—captures the group at its first gig; their imaginative brand of chamber improvisation is played with a sensitivity to color and texture that tells of a compatibility transcending their individual voices, which are built on diverse sound palettes. Joseph works with a wide variety of sounds—wah-wah drenched psychedelia, heavy metal scrounge, a shimmeringly clean tone enhanced by reverb. Intriere plays with a proper, classical sound when he isn’t using extended techniques and percussive effects, or setting up asymmetrical pizzicato lines like a bassist walking steadily through changing time signatures. Friedman most often takes the melodic line, playing an introspective mid-register both with and without mute. Although the seven tracks are fully improvised, collectively the group sets up structures and atmospheres that coalesce and melt away organically, whether in the minor key ruminations of a track like Parenthetical, the ballad-like quasi-soundtrack Point Dume, or the abstractly jittery Pico.
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.