AMN Reviews: João Pedro Viegas, Luiz Rocha, Silvia Corda & Adriano Orrù – Unknown Shores [Amirani AMRN058]

The ten tracks of Unknown Shores—an album from the quartet of bass clarinetist João Pedro Viegas, bass clarinetist/clarinetist Luiz Rocha, pianist Silvia Corda and double bassist Adriano Orrù—trace an arc from a fully realized, introverted exchange of lines that would be at home in a piece of Modernist chamber music, through a variety of abstract, acoustic musique concrète, and back to vigorous melodic interplay. It’s improvised music that’s well-thought out and consequently plays like a suite of intimately related parts.

From the opening moments, when Corda introduces a set of atonal motifs which she develops with variations and ornamentations, the music’s basic vocabulary is established. In a gradual, additive process the other players enter, ushered in by Orrù’s arco bass. The combination of instruments makes for intriguing contrasts and coincidences of sound, with the two reeds and bowed bass often fusing to one side and the piano offering creative opposition from the other. The four keep the textures open and polychromatic, breaking at times into changing configurations of twos and threes, and leavening conventional playing with episodes of extended techniques. All get solo space as well, which adds a further level of color affects to an already finely calibrated group sound. Recurring thematic material, much of it derived from atonal pitch sets introduced by the piano and picked up, replicated, refigured and refined by the reeds and bass, gives the music local cohesion and global continuity. If the music seems composed at times it’s largely due to the adept listening and apt responses of these four highly accomplished improvisers.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: A Sphere of Simple Green – With an Oblique Glance [Azoth Recordings rebis005]

Some creative partnerships are the product of steady work: regular rehearsals, residencies or running engagements at clubs or other performance spaces. The Sardinian trio A Sphere of Simple Green are something else. This electroacoustic ensemble of double bassist Adriano Orrù, pianist/toy pianist Silvia Corda, and electronics sound artist Simon Balestrazzi released one album shortly after forming in 2010, 2011’s Untitled Soundscapes; With an Oblique Glance, their second release, follows after a six-year lapse.

One of the advantages—at least in theory—of a freely-improvising ensemble’s playing together relatively infrequently is that it keeps the participants at the edge of alertness and the music consequently fresh and, when desired, unpredictable. At the same time, the internal dynamic will be driven by at least some prior experience of the sensibilities in play: as an analogy, imagine a field open to exploration that contains a handful of familiar landmarks, rather than a completely new situation that solicits a sometimes serendipitous but still essentially blind groping. With this new recording, A Sphere of Simple Green put that theory into practice.

The group’s ability to strike a fine balance among their voices is apparent from the very first track. Stabs of piano and toy piano complement a bass whose strings are struck with the bow and scraped as well; the acoustic instruments’ abstract sounds fold naturally into a discreet wash of electronics. Over the course of the set, Orrù and Corda display an adeptness at combining extended techniques on their respective instruments to create hybrid timbres whose quasi-artificiality blends well with the more natural artificiality of Balestrazzi’s palette of sounds. And yet the more conventionally produced sounds—the long tones bowed on the bass or sparse piano chords—feel just as appropriately placed. The trio’s particular gift is their sensitivity to audio space as an almost three-dimensional container of sound: something to be filled but never over-filled, a room in which objects are defined as much by what they leave open around them as by how far they extend.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Marco Colonna, Silvia Corda & Adriano Orrù: Istinti Ragionati [bandcamp]

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.

Daniel Barbiero

AMN Reviews: Palimpsest Trio – Stanze [pyr168]; Orrù Mar Rocha – Live at MIA 2015 [Endtitles ET2]

Improvisation can be, among other things, a kind of spontaneous composition. Two improvisational trios whose common element is Sardinian double bassist Adriano Orrù are exquisitely aware of this and play accordingly. The Palimpsest Trio, made up of Orrù on double bass, Silvia Corda on piano, and Paulo Chagas on reeds, and the trio Orrù Mar Rocha, in which violinist Maria do Mar and clarinetist/bass clarinetist Luiz Rocha join Orrù, take approaches to improvisation which have in common a grounding in compositional principles, while differing in the details.

palimpsest-trio-web_V2-1024x924The Palimpsest Trio’s concern for compositional values—for choosing and putting elements into balanced relationships—is apparent even in the title of their new release, Stanze. A stanza (plural “stanze”) is a compositional unit in poetry as well as Italian for “room” or “stopping place;” the common meaning is of boundary or limit, and by extension a container of discrete measure which can function as a constituent part among parts comprising an appropriately proportioned whole. Terms like “proportion,” “room” and “balance” bring to mind architectural properties. And in fact the nine tracks making up Stanze are permeated by an intuitive concept of musical architecture.

For Orrù, Corda and Chagas, architectural balance takes multiple forms. First is the basic push and pull of very different timbres and articulations holding the strings, piano and reeds in an elastic tension. Sounds are placed with care beside, beneath and above one another, resulting in textures that highlight timbral contrast or concord as the moment requires. Corda’s piano is mostly a sparse, staccato source of vertically-stacked tones; Chagas’ legato lines add a fluid, vocal quality to much of the music; Orrù’s use of bowhair and wood, fingers and foreign objects to excite the strings builds a polychromatic bridge between percussion and wind. The evocative Aubade, with its modal sax melody, is a good example of how this dynamic plays out.

Just as important as timbral balance is the balance between filled and empty spaces. Orrù, Corda and Chagas use staggered and coincident rests as fundamental elements for collating phrases into larger, collective compositional units. This is evident on all tracks, but most especially on Enjambements, where open spaces play as significant an overall structural and expressive role as sounds.

a1734723754_16In contrast to the Palimpsest Trio’s use of substantial blocks of empty space as structural elements, Orrù, Mar and Rocha build their performances more out of the timbral interplay of instruments that overlap substantially in sound color. Over the course of two pieces recorded live in Portugal earlier this year, the three weave an often dense texture of contrasting and complementary colors and articulations. Their instruments’ capacity for braiding long, sustained tones is demonstrated right from the opening of the first piece. The arco double bass and violin sometimes sound like a single stringed instrument of unusually wide range, while the registral coincidence and timbral similarities of bowed bass and bass clarinet are capable of blending into one seamless sound. At the same time, the three are more than happy to explore the unique sound profiles of their individual voices, creating often intense passages of starkly opposed timbres that effectively play off of the surrounding moments of instrumental confluence: Broken figures emerge from a smooth field, which eventually reabsorbs them.

Despite outward differences, what each of these pieces by both trios share is a meticulous placement of sound and a nuanced internal balance among three independent voices. Close listening is the prerequisite for doing this successfully, and as both of these recordings amply demonstrate, that is a skill that these five fine improvisers have in abundance.

Daniel Barbiero