AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Haiku (Paolo Pascolo & Stefano Giust) – s/t [Setola di Maiale SM4030]; Jars – s/t [Setola di Maiale SM4050]; Ombak Trio – Through Eons to Now [Setola di Maiale SM4070]

Percussionist Stefano Giust, a native of Unterseen, Switzerland now resident in Pordenone, Italy, is a multifaceted drummer who serves as the common link on these recordings of two trios and one duo. All three are all improvised and reflect a refined manner of playing with space and color.

Haiku is a deceptively simple art form. Consisting of a handful of syllables, three lines and plainly direct language, these poems when successful imply an entire macrocosm in the microcosmic observation of detail. By the same token the improvising duo Haiku—Stefano Giust and Paolo Pascolo—take the smallest ensemble format and leverage it to improvise a rich world of sound color, texture, and line.

Giust is credited with drums and cymbals, but in practice he is a multi-instrumentalist in the way he approaches the various components of his set. Each individual drum is treated as a distinct instrument in its own right, with its own unique voice to be sounded alone or in chorus with the other voices. Giust plays for timbre and space rather than for pulse and leaves a good deal of open room for each element of his to resound to its fullest. The recording puts the listener right in the middle of these sounds where he or she can actually feel the vibrations—especially of the bass drum.

Pascolo complements Giust’s sound with flute, bass flute, tenor saxophone and electronics. Whether on flute or saxophone Pascolo plays with a liquid fluency. His lines cohere around thematic runs—downward cascades of notes shifted over different implicit keys, elongated tones slowly floating upward—that aggregate over the course of an improvisation into songlike arcs. On bass flute Pascolo unfolds a line with the gravitas appropriate to the instrument; his two contributions on electronics serve as abstract interludes in between acoustic flights.

On Jars, Giust is joined by Slovenian double bassist Boris Janje and Croatian clarinetist/bass clarinetist Henry Marić. Like the Haiku recording, Jars is an improvised session in which space plays a highly audible role. Giust again provides a flexible framework of color and even moves into defined, yet elastic, rhythms on a couple of the tracks. Although containing mostly expressive, melodic music, the album does have moments of pure, unpitched timbre as Marić, a forcefully lyrical voice on reeds, when doubling on prepared electric guitar creates scraping, spiky sounds. Janje, who tends to favor staccato, economical bass lines, during the more abstract passages is able to open up his sound with extended pizzicato and arco techniques.

Through Eons to Now is another trio session, this time for tenor and soprano saxophone (Cene Resnik, who like Janje is from Ljubljana) and cello (Giovanni Maier of Trieste) as well as Giust’s drums. The music here is energetic and forward—still attentive to the formative role of space, but at the same time willing to fill that space with compacted sound. An important part of the group’s signature sound is the way Maier’s cello plays a kind of hybrid role, punctuating the overall texture with low, pizzicato notes on the one hand, and setting long, high-register tones against Resnik’s own long upper-register tones on the other.

AMN Reviews

AMN Reviews: Marco Colonna / Giovanni Maier / Zlatko Kaucic – Impressioni Astratte [bandcamp]

a1153098642_16For good reason, abstract art and improvised music have long been associated with each other. As disciplines, they’ve been mutually inspiring and influencing; as bodies of work lacking overtly mimetic or predictably cyclical forms and conventions, they challenge audiences in similar ways. And, galleries of modern and contemporary art make for congenial settings for staging improvised music.

At the end of last year, the Galleria d’arte moderna e contemporanea in Pordenone in Northeast Italy hosted a program of live improvisation by a trio led by Marco Colonna. Impressioni Astratte—the release is named for the art exhibit it was connected to—captures the music played there.

Colonna, who plays clarinets, saxophones and flute, is a prolific musician of broad culture. In addition to more conventional improvisational settings, he’s played North African-tinged duets with oudist Evaggelos Merkouris, and has transcribed and adapted to solo clarinet selected movements by J. S. Bach. For this date, he put together a geographically-diverse ensemble—Colonna is from Rome–which included double bassist Giovanni Maier (Friuli in Northeast Italy) and Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaucic.

Like good abstract painting, the music is fraught with a creative tension that impels a sense a movement. Also like good abstract painting, it is uncluttered. There are no wasted gestures but instead a constantly moving equilibrium of timbres, dynamics and, most importantly, open space. Kaucic’s restrained, sensitive playing has much to do with keeping the overall textures accommodating in that regard. With generous arco lines and discrete use of harmonics, Maier is particularly adept at crafting timbral counterpoint to Colonna’s reeds. Colonna, for his part, maintains a profoundly lyrical voice throughout, providing the center of gravity on which the music balances.

In the end, abstraction rises or falls on the plasticity that defines it—those dynamic relationships of forms and colors that structure the picture plane. By analogy this is true of improvised music, where the stakes and risks of performers disclosing their formal choices in real time are particularly high. Impressioni Astratte is dramatically successful in this regard and is a fine example of painting with sound.

Daniel Barbiero