Recorded just this past March in Genoa’s Castello d’Albertis, A Castle of Ghosts is a performance featuring two improvisations from the trio of Bruno Gussoni (C flute and shakuhachi); Adrian Northover (soprano saxophone) and Marcello Magliocchi (percussion). It’s easy to imagine the ghosts of the title in the ethereal sounds of the flutes and the sharper-edged, yet still wind-borne, sound of the soprano saxophone. Holding a musically proper balance between these two unevenly matched winds is crucial; given its timbre and volume, the saxophone is capable of washing away either of the flutes. Fortunately, Northover and Gussoni are able to work out a relationship of symmetry based on an intuitive sense of their instruments’ complementarity of range and tone. All of that would be for naught if not for Magliocchi’s sensitivity as a percussionist; his well-judged selection of sounds from a palette of metal, wood, and membrane is a vital part of this music, which particularly on the first improvisation pivots on the delicate interplay of the two wind instruments. The second improvisation finds the trio prone to explore less conventional, unpitched sounds
The two improvisations on …camminava solo sotto le stelle find multi-instrumentalist Mauro Sambo paired with percussionist Marcello Magiolocchi, who also brings a number of instruments to the collaboration. The tracks were recorded a year apart, the first in December 2014 and the second in the following December.
One of the instruments Magliocchi is credited with playing is sounding sculptures by Andrea Dami, which may well provide the opening moves on these two substantial performances. Magliocchi has had prior experience with Dami’s sheet metal and steel sculptures, having recorded the album Music for Sounding Sculptures in Twenty-three Movements some ten years ago, and in fact sounds from Dami’s sculptures appear to be the continuo running throughout both tracks. Sambo’s electronics, bass clarinet, and bowed double bass join Magliocchi to add a layer of largely unpitched sounds to a collective sound that plays subtly with changes of density. In addition to percussion, Magliocchi contributes electric and acoustic guitars and Sambo adds soprano saxophone, further mixing colors in the overall weave of musical texture. Still, the predominant timbres come from the various percussion instruments, which provide both background context and foreground punctuation. What’s striking and strikingly consistent about both pieces is the way Sambo and Magliocchi create a truly cooperative sound, a polyphony of timbres melding into a purposeful unity.
Recorded in November 2019, Avoiding Sharks Attacks is a compact set of four improvisations by the trio of Luca Pissavini on five-string double bass (played both “clean” and with electronic distortion), Fabrizio Bozzi Fenu on electric guitar, and Emilio Bernè sampling drums on laptop—a surprisingly effective substitute for an organic drum kit in the context of the group’s close interactions. The three play in a style that alludes, often in an oblique way, to harmonic cycles and structured themes but still manages to flow freely with the unfolding logic of the moment, whether frantic, as on the opening track, or more reflective, as in Lose Obedience.
Plus Timbre consistently releases freely improvised music often directed more toward sound as such than toward more conventional considerations of melody or harmony; what sets its releases apart from many other sound-based improvised music is the sheer sensual quality of much of it. Even when the improvising is at its most abstract, there’s frequently a palpable delight to be had in the almost tangible sounds of the instrumental voices. The label’s two most recent issues are consistent with this aesthetic. Both contain sound-based improvisations that begin at, but aren’t limited to, that zero point of pure gesture before conventional music emerges; both revel in the pleasures of sonic texture.
Marcello Magliocchi and Alen Grassi’s Trama comprises two long and one short improvisation. The first of the long tracks foregrounds Magliocci’s crisply recorded percussion. As this and the other tracks demonstrate, Magliocchi is an outstanding color drummer able to draw on a sumptuous palette of metal, wood and membrane. Grassi’s electric guitar, in turn, is the dominant voice on the second long track. Grassi sets up simple harmonic tensions with drones and two-chord patterns, and then dissolves it all into picked-out, muted notes and bent tones.
Clarinetist-contrabass clarinetist Johannes Feuchter and percussionist Stanislas Pili’s über.zeit is a five-part improvised suite that begins with the ticking of a mechanical alarm clock and ends when the bell rings. In between, Feuchter and Pili explore sounds ranging from pitchless noise to melodic fragments and drones. Feuchter alternates between the low, reedy buzz of the contrabass clarinet at one end, and the flitterings and trills of the clarinet’s upper registers at the other; in addition, he offers the pre-musical sounds of the plosions and stutterings of breath moving through a wooden tube. Pili covers a comparably broad range running from the rumbling of a bass drum to the shimmering of high-pitched chimes.
When so inclined, even the smallest of ensembles—duos and trios—can put forward music of a surprising timbral complexity. Two recordings of improvised music from Europe and Argentina capture a trio and duo that are indeed so inclined.
The trio of Bruno Gussoni, Marcello Magliocchi and Adrian Northover has the unusual instrumentation of flutes, drums and soprano saxophone (played by Gussoni, Magliocchi and Northover, respectively). The standard flute and soprano sax share a substantial overlap in range, but differ markedly in timbre: one is hollow and airy in the low register and bright in the high register, while the other is penetrating and nasal in the upper register and reedy and dense in the lower register. In combination, they can create startling contrasts of color, as they do here. Whether played together in blocks of sound or as flurries of notes strung together in intertwining lines, the two instruments open up a sometimes very subtle space of difference between them. In their unaccompanied Duo #1, these differences are emphasized through extended techniques such as air notes and key clicks; elsewhere dynamic contrasts come into play, as in the opening piece for trio and in Trio #3’s upper register passages and held tones. Given the frequently delicate balance of sounds surrounding him, Magliocchi responds with sensitivity and open textures, never crowding out the winds. His skill as a colorist is evident throughout, but especially on Duo #2 for drums and soprano sax, and Duo #3 for drums and flute.
Foutel + Palotta are Argentinian—pianist Ana Foutel is from Buenos Aires, where Mandarina was recorded, while multi-instrumentalist Edgardo Palotta is from Quilmes. Their six duets are notable for their timbral adventurousness thanks largely to Foutel’s exquisite extended techniques and Palotta’s eclectic battery of wind, string and percussion instruments. On Noctilucas, a dark, ponderously paced piece, for instance, Foutel transforms the piano into a reasonable facsimile of a mallet percussion instrument; on Sándalo she plays directly on the strings with metal objects to give the piano a brittle, harpsichord-like sound. Palotta’s own contributions are always apt, whether underscoring the music with pizzicato double bass as he does on Ocre and Evening, spinning out evocative motifs on clarinet on Noctilucas, or bringing in the sounds of the South American Indian flute on Nos salvaron los peces.
The twelve relatively brief pieces making up The Sounding Door, a trio work by Guy-Frank Pellerin, Matthias Boss and Marcello Magliocchi, represent a variety of inspired chamber improvisation grounded in the textural multiplicity afforded by similarly pitched but timbrally different instruments.
Although each participant is a multi-instrumentalist—Pellerin plays three different types of saxophone as well as bone flute and clarinet; Boss contributes violin, flute and voice; and Magliocchi plays guitar, percussion and a sound-producing sculpture created by M. Andrea Dami—the tracks are never crowded but instead leave space for each individual instrument to develop its voice in tandem with the others.
Most of the pieces focus on the interplay of Pellerin’s reeds and flute with Boss’s violin. The juxtaposition of the violin with the soprano and sopranino saxophones creates a musical tension built on the simultaneous convergence of pitches and divergence of timbre, which often serve to emphasize the brightness of the violin. By contrast, the track Incertitude Rêvée puts the violin against the clarinet’s lower register, the latter taking on the unlikely function of a pseudo-cello in an updated continuo. Un Bicchiere di Spumante features plucked violin and baritone saxophone against a shimmering background of cymbals and other metallic percussion—quite possibly a case of the sculpture audibly asserting itself in the mix.