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.
The liner note to What’s That Noise?, the exhilarating recent album by trombonist/composer Giancarlo Schiaffini and pianist Giuseppe Giuliano, is a manifesto of sorts. In it, Schiaffini observes that until relatively recently European music included improvisation among its accepted practices and declares that now, after the experiments of the second half of the last century, improvisation once again has become acceptable as a course of action available for use in conjunction with notated music.
Pursuing that conjunction is, in essence, the program for What’s That Noise? The album consists of five free improvisations alternating with four new and recent compositions by Giovanni Costantini, Corrado Rojac, Stanislav Makovsky, and Schiaffini himself.
As might be expected, both Schiaffini and Giuliano have deep backgrounds in improvised music as well as in the postwar European avant-garde. Giuliano’s musical sensibility was imprinted by encounters with Franco Evangelisti, Luigi Nono, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage. As a performer, he’s realized contemporary composed works in addition to playing improvised music in different settings. Schiaffini, in addition to having been part of the European free jazz movement, studied with Stockhausen, Evangelisti, György Ligeti and Vinko Globokar, and collaborated with Cage, Nono and Giacinto Scelsi.
As is apparent from the very first notes, the music on What’s That Noise? reflects both musicians’ fluency not only in the advanced vocabulary of contemporary improvisational practices, but in the expansive sound world and complex syntax of the postwar European avant-garde.