05 jazz 01 charlie ringasFreeplay
Charlie Ringas
Supermono Records XOR0003 (charlieringas.com)

Charlie Ringas is an inventive musician/composer in the Toronto creative music community. Freeplay is a ten-track disc which combines the feel of free improvisation with a solid compositional sense. How so? As the liner notes explain, Ringas was working on a text when he rediscovered two past live concert improvisations and decided to add new improvisations to them. After dividing these into ten pieces, he brought in violinist Ivana Popovic and double bassist Bret Higgins to improvise over this past material. Only these string parts were then extensively and successfully edited to create bed tracks to which Mike Skinner (saxophones, flutes), Garnet Willis (terpstra keyboard and producer) and Ringas (percussion) improvised. Trombonist Eugene Watts’ improvisation from an earlier unrelated session was then edited into these pieces. Finally vocalist Peggy Jane Hope added the text both improvised in spoken and sung forms.

Sounds like too much work but the effect is best described in the final line of text in the last track: “Liberation from holding forms.” All the improvisers are highly skilled musicians obviously chosen for their inventiveness and superb listening skills and their artistic openness to trust Ringas to rework their material. Their performances are brilliant and their musical personalities continue to shine even after Ringas has respectfully edited each part to meet his personal compositional sense.

Freeplay is tough music to grasp in its free tonalities and at times jagged sections but worth the effort in its memorable walk through the musical mind of Charlie Ringas.


05 jazz 02 taft hiltzBeverly Taft meets the Nathan Hiltz Orchestra
Beverly Taft; Nathan Hiltz Orchestra
Independent BT-002 (beverlytaft.com)

With the release of this ebullient parfait of a vocal jazz/big band CD, some much-needed joie de vivre has been transfused back into the current jazz scene. The well-produced project conjures up images and sounds of the classic supper clubs of the 1950s and features ten original compositions, co-authored by engaging vocalist/lyricist Beverly Taft and JUNO award-winning guitarist and arranger, Nathan Hiltz. The recording has a refreshing “live,” organic quality – and no auto-tune or obsessive over-dubbing will be found here... in fact, just as a great actress eschews cosmetic surgery, every nuance and imperfection of Taft’s vocal interpretations is full of life experience, truth and beauty. Additionally, the CD is set against the musical canvas of a swinging and skilled nonet, including William Carn on trombone, Shawn Nykwist on tenor, Richard Underhill on alto, Jake Wilkinson on trumpet, Artie Roth on bass, Sly Juhas on drums and special guest Adrean Farrugia on piano.

Notable tracks include the lilting and sensual Clock Tickin’ Blues (enhanced by Underhill’s funky alto solo) and Gay Repartee at The Ski Chalet, the true love story of Taft’s own parents (with particularly groovy solos by Hiltz and Underhill). Of special mention is the bebop-ish Bouncin’ Round My Brain – a superb band feature and a clear tip of the hat to the great Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’ hit Twisted, as well as the cool, trombone and guitar-driven cooker Travellin’ Along and the closing tune, Izzie and Birdie (about two little girls at play) which showcases Taft’s enchanting lyrics and the inspired piano work of Adrean Farrugia.


05 jazz 03 feldspacd001Feldspar
Matana Roberts; Sam Shalabi; Nicolas Caloia
Tour de Bras TDB9008cd (tourdebras.com)

Titled after the rock formations found in the earth’s crust, Feldspar is as rugged as it is remarkable. Naming each of the seven tracks for terrestrial minerals, the tunes confirm not only the attractive results but also the hard work that goes into their production.

Not that there is anything laboured about the program. On it American alto saxophonist Matana Roberts, who recently won a Herb Alpert Award in the Arts for risk-taking, mid-career artists, turns away from her long-term Coin Coin project to interact with two Montrealers: guitarist Sam Shalabi and bassist Nicolas Caloia. Playing together as if they have done so for years, the three evolve a strategy that could almost be a fanciful vaudeville routine between an exuberant and an unruffled comedy team. With Caloia fancifully standing near the wings, only adding tensile thumps when needed for further direction, the saxophonist spins out lightly accented, straight-ahead timbres, while the guitarist uses every manner of string, amp and knob distortion to vary the interface.

At points Roberts responds to his sonic goading with double-tongued or slap-tongued interjections which challenge then blend impressively with Shalabi’s crunches, buzzes and distended flanges. And with the reedist in perfect control at all times, the program works its way to unearth different sparkling imaginary mineral formations to reach a climax with the final title track. As bass string stopping becomes more prominent, Roberts’ previously long-lined flatness turns to emotional altissimo at the same time as Shalabi’s meandering timbres stabilize into rhythmic string clipping and a conclusive banjo-like clang.

A utilitarian rather than a trifling listen, concentrating on the sound production here will yield the same multi-faceted rewards that concentrated hard-rock mining does in other situations.


Since relocating from Toronto to San Francisco to study composition at Mills College, Darren Johnston has emerged as a trumpeter of depth and vision, qualities evident in return visits playing with pianist David Braid at various local venues. Named by DownBeat as one of “25 Trumpeters for the Future” (along with Toronto’s Lina Allemano and Vancouver’s Brad Turner), Johnston has recently focused on large-scale composition: his choral work Letters to Home, its libretto written using phrases from letters by Bay-area immigrants, was recently debuted by the Trans-Global People’s Chorus. The activity may have kept Johnston from recording his own small groups lately, but he’s a distinguished presence on numerous recordings, ranging from largely composed to entirely improvised music.

broomer 01a for we have heardMulti-reed player/composer Steven Lugerner has created something very unusual in For We Have Heard (Primary Records PR013 primaryrecords.org), a series of works largely based on the text of the Book of Joshua from the Torah in which Lugerner uses gematria, a system to convert words into numbers which in turn are re-encoded into musical notation. Lugerner employs Johnston, pianist Myra Melford and drummer Matt Wilson to create work that is beyond genre. Lyrical, determined, profound, often sombre, its themes are expanded, prodded and even undermined by the spontaneous wit of improvisation. Witness Johnston’s solo on Us and Our Fathers, its sound mutating from clarion declaration to puckish aside.

broomer 01b touch and goVijay Anderson leads the Touch and Go Sextet on Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (Nine Winds NWCD0314 ninewinds.com). As a composer, Anderson sometimes creates densely contrapuntal rhythmic and melodic figures that as a drummer he drives forward with bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, often fomenting fast and furious collective improvisations from the four winds, Johnston and three reed players. There’s often a raw, Mingus-like energy here, but there are also moments of limpid beauty, like the delicate trumpet and woody clarinet textures developed by Johnston and Ben Goldberg on Delusions. Johnston’s splintering lines and shifting timbres contribute much to the moody Swift Horse.

Broomer 01c Spectral CoverIf these CDs emphasize Johnston’s interpretive skills, Spectral (Aerophonic AR 006 aerophonicrecords.com) reveals his talent for wholly spontaneous, interactive music in a co-operative trio with two veteran improvisers: Chicago alto saxophonist Dave Rempis and Bay-area tenor saxophonist Larry Ochs. Free improvisation is always a challenging art, whether it’s combative, contrarian or empathetic. This trio emphasizes the latter, using the meeting for spontaneous composition, creating collective counterpoint, exchanging cries, mirroring one another’s lines and pairing up to create patterned accompaniment to a solo voice, suggesting that the riffing horns of the 1930s Basie band might be distant ancestors. Wrinkle Wrankle covers a host of musical languages, incorporating touches of blues, chaos and perhaps even vaudeville, and Johnston brings a plaintive, quavering, village brass band quality to Cheek and Bones.

broomer 02 artie rothBassist Artie Roth is a fixture of Toronto jazz, whether providing a springy beat that keeps a band moving or soloing with the confidence and fluency of a horn. His abilities as composer and bandleader are also strongly apparent on Currently Experiencing (artieroth.com) by his current quartet. The group speaks a distinctly contemporary idiom with a texture of its own. Rhythms can be driving or floating and sometimes even both, as in the opening Blues for All That Is Left Unspoken. It’s a special quality that arises from Roth’s writing and the band’s makeup: Geoff Young’s guitar tones may hang in space while saxophonist Mike Filice (an emerging talent to listen for) and drummer Anthony Michelli churn it up and Roth creates lines that strategically mediate the contrast.

broomer 03 one big songThe Toronto quartet One Big Song (EP 108.01 onebigsong.com) has been together since 2009 and builds on a longer collaboration between reed player Ernie Tollar and percussionist Paul Fitterer. Along with guitarist Mario Potestio and bassist Wes Neal, they create a musical web that extends out into world music, with the myriad instruments of Tollar and Fitterer picking up hues of Latin America, Africa and Asia. Brief collective improvisations mingle with longer forays, like Tollar’s raga-suffused Dream Alap or his witty Polka-Reggae.

broomer 04 van setersThe trio of piano, string bass and drums is one of the classic formats of jazz, a mini-orchestra that can create dense rhythms and harmonies with great range and timbral variety. These recent CDs demonstrate some of the range achieved by the form. Tom Van Seters developed in the Montreal milieu, spent several years in Toronto and is currently residing in Edmonton. On Variables (VSM003, tomvanseters.ca), his third CD as a leader, Van Seters stresses controlled complexity, his compositions assembled out of detailed interlocking parts that provide effective inspiration to creative dialogues with his partners, bassist Jim Vivian and drummer Anthony Michelli. Van Seters’ finest moment, though, may come on an unaccompanied elegy, The Creeping Crab.
broomer 05 matt newtonMatt Newton’s Within Reach (FTM906 mattnewton.ca) practices a cool minimalism with roots that reach back through the resonant Nordic school of ECM to the understatement and evasive harmonies of Bill Evans. Less is more, and ideas and moods flower through inference and implication. Often there’s a dream-like ambience here, with Newton floating over the turbulence of Dan Fortin’s bass lines and Ethan Ardelli’s drums on Stepping into the Light and Fortin’s Ends.

broomer 06 metronomeThe Mike Janzen Trio is at its best on Metronome (MJ005 mikejanzentrio.com) when the emphasis is on rhythm and interplay, taking its cues from African High Life and Township patterns, funk or Caribbean inspirations, with splashes of keyboard colour from the leader and plenty of idiomatic input from bassist George Koller and, especially, drummer Larnell Lewis. At times, though, when a string quartet appears or Janzen overdubs other keyboards, it veers toward the mechanical cheerfulness of rush-hour radio programming.

Concert note:The Mike Janzen Trio performs at the Paintbox Bistro in Toronto on June 6 and the New Life Reformed Church in Guelph on June 7, with appearances later this summer at the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, the Wreckhouse International Jazz Festival and the Port Hope All-Canadian Jazz Festival.



Reflecting one person’s imagination, musical composition is an intimate art. But, especially if the creation is wide-ranging and sonically multihued, sympathetic interpreters are needed to express the composer’s vision. As this group of CDs demonstrates, notable interpretations of a composer’s singular vision can illuminate the creators’ concepts.

waxman 01 luminosityOf particular importance is the double disc set Luminosity – The Last Suites (Jazzcontinuum GCM 2014 jazzcontinuum.com). Double bassist, bandleader, author and educator, Graham Collier (1937-2011) was one of the United Kingdom’s most accomplished jazz composers starting in the late 1960s. Serendipitously both of his final suites were initially composed for and premiered by Canadian orchestras: The Blue Suite for a University of Victoria big band directed by Hugh Fraser and Luminosity for Paul Cram’s Upstream Orchestra in Halifax. However, one indication of Collier’s musical stature is that since he didn’t record these pieces, 15 of the UK’s top jazzers who had played with him over years convened to create this posthumous tribute. Each suite had a different conception. Luminosity is Collier’s translation into related sound pictures of some of Hans Hofmann’s abstract paintings. In contrast The Blue Suite uses motifs expressed on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue LP without ever quoting those familiar themes. Making full use of Andy Panayi’s ethereal flute tone with the often romantic interplay of pianist Roger Dean, The Blue’s tunes are orchestrated with an exposition, narrative and summation. But preciousness is avoided. Swing strength is especially apparent on All Kinds, as John Marshall lets loose with a showy drum solo. Despite being mated with cascading trumpet triplets the effect doesn’t disrupt the suite’s flow. Still, the individuality of Collier’s skills is pinpointed with Kind Of Freddie. A feature for guitarist Ed Speight’s chordal style, moderato tutti passages pierced by string strums and brass yelps expose another sequence that is subtly revealed to be the suite’s recurring, connective motif. Building excitement via brass shouts and plunger work plus intense sax solos permeate tracks like Kind of So What as the blended undercurrent remains. On the other hand, Luminosity reflects the tension implicit in Hofmann’s influential colour relationships by shading the tunes with various musical inferences. Marshall’s jazz-rock styled drumming appears in one instance, as does a baroque-like pairing of flute and guitar. Above Deep Water for instance showcases a duel between a Harlem Nocturne-like line from Panayi’s alto sax and the restrained gravitas of James Allsopp’s bass clarinet. Finally, before the descriptive finale, a series of polyphonic smears are displayed on Blue Monolith named for a late Hofmann abstraction. Pumping horn vamps, snapping percussion and descending trumpet lines from Martin Shaw and Steve Waterman create an opaque, accelerating theme that reflects the orchestrator’s talents as well as the painter’s.

waxman 02 amphiradioAnother musician whose compositions are influenced by visual art as well as architecture and other sounds is British bassist Barry Guy. Amphi + Radio Rondo (Intakt CD 235 intaktrec.ch), demonstrates how he uses his 12-piece New Orchestra (BGNO) to frame solo concertos. Suggested by Elana Gutmann paintings, Amphi places Maya Homburger’s structured soloing on baroque violin within the context of polyphonic eruptions from the BGNO. While the initial sequences suggest that violin interludes are trading off with band parts, by the final movements the string part is firmly embedded. Even before that, Homburger’s expressive spiccato sweeps and staccato scratches are prominent enough that clusters of reed buzzing, brass lowing or clumping percussion appropriately comment on her solos. Helped by a pulsed continuum from pianist Agustí Fernández, tubaist Per Åke Holmlander and Guy’s double bass, her tremolo string vibrations harmonize alongside the horn and reed section before the climax, where every instrument’s timbres deconstruct into multiphonic shards. Moving upwards from near silence to a crescendo of yelps, cries and trills, the fiddler’s centrality is re-established with a coda of strident scrubs. Fernández is the soloist on the slightly lengthier Radio Rondo. Here though his passing chords and cascading runs face head-on challenges from others’ extended technique, including Evan Parker’s circular breathed soprano saxophone smears and speedy slurs from trombonist Johannes Bauer. The keyboardist’s high-energy key fanning and kinetic cascades inject more energy into the proceedings plus emotional dynamics. Confident, Fernández mixes the physicality of a concert pianist with the close listening of a big band soloist like Earl Hines, as a series of ever-more dramatic crescendos solidify the ensemble into as much pure swing as an experimental ensemble can muster, complete with blasting high notes from trumpeter Herb Robertson. With the structure of the piece finally apparent, the final rondo could be the soundtrack for an experimental war film, with agitated piano comping, plunger slurps from the brass and reed multiphonics as well as pounding percussion. Just when it seems the peak can’t be heightened, the piece abruptly ends as if a radio has been switched off. It`s an exhausting yet exhilarating triumph.

waxman 03 caillouFor her part, Montreal percussionist Danielle Palardy Roger has such a consistent sonic concept that she can release a disc such as Le Caillou (Ambiances Magnetiques AM 215 CD actuellecd.com) with seven performances from 1998 to 2013 and have the disc sound as if came from one session. Featuring a shifting cast of 23 musicians called Ensemble SuperMusique, most tracks are variations on her original composition Le Caillou (the pebble), a multi-faceted game piece which allows improvisers to collaborate on its musical development. Over the CD’s course everything from bel canto-like whoops to Sun Ra-like interplanetary percussion rumbles to top-of-range clarinet shrills and turntable scratching takes centre stage. With sequences that shift from rustic fiddle and guitar interludes to rock-styled drumming and intense jazz-like sax and trombone lick trading, part of the fun for the listener is being kept off balance. But this flexibility includes consistency. Even contributions from ebullient French bassist Joëlle Léandre, featured on one track, are no more prominent than others. Although The Stone, the one Manhattan-recorded tune, is the most challenging in its strident stropped string and slapped percussion outlay, the defining track is Le Cristal. Seemingly encompassing something for everyone from straight-ahead swing and martial rhythms, to splayed rock-guitar chords, dog-whistle altissimo to closely harmonized woodwinds, the track encompasses bedlam, baroque and bop. Highlighted by a well-paced duet between Jean-Denis Levasseur’s clarinet and Jean Derome’s alto sax, the climax preserves the beat and theme with jumping strings and to-the-point percussion.

waxman 04 circularJazz education, of which the abovementioned Graham Collier was a pioneer and later a critic, can produce technically proficient composers. But no matter how sincere their work may be, it may lack sharp edges. Reedman Kristóf Bascó, an exceptional product of advanced schooling in Hungary, France and the U.S., proves this point. On Circular (BMC CD 204 bmcrecords.hu), his seven compositions played by the 19-piece Budapest-based Modern Art Orchestra (MAO), deal with such important themes as fatherhood and death, and are performed faultlessly, but until the end lack a certain humanity. Voicings are impressive; the section blending is high quality; and the solos whether from Bascó’s limpid soprano or the muted trumpet of MAO conductor Kornél Fekete-Kovács are properly framed, yet hair-raising excitement is at a premium. To its credit the ensemble works towards that. Tenor saxophonist Jànos Ávéd honks ruggedly as the band riffs sympathetically behind him on Lunar Dance, while guitarist Màrton Fenyvesi cuts through the horns with unexpected rasps on Child’s Space. Only on the final – and most recent – cut does the narrative suggest why the MAO considered an all-Bascó program. Variations on a Folksong sways with a lively, likely folkloric beat and offers some meaty, stratospheric upturns from the ten-piece brass section.

waxman 05 largeuniIn sharp contrast Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, whose musical education has been supplemented by playing experience with some of jazz’s most idiosyncratic soloists and bands, isn’t afraid of grittiness and slip-ups as his 11-piece Large Unit roars through First Blow (PNL Records PNL 021 paalnilssen-love.com), a CD-EP which preserves its initial live concert. Driven by the near Second Line-rhythm of twin drummers Andreas Wildhagen and Nilssen-Love, Culius opens up into polyphonic abandon reflected in flutter-tongued brass burp, atonal cries from the reeds and crackling burbles from Lasse Marhaug’s electronics. With the tune unfolding at tempos that range from horse-racing swiftness to country-road cantering and effortlessly switching from crescendos and decrescendos, the tune impresses with sheer force. The subsequent Motfølge proves that suggestion is as legitimate as shouting. Centred around Marhaug’s wispy processing and mechanized crunches, offside interjections and challenges from the other instruments appear and vanish. The asides range from gong-like clatter from the drummers to old-timey tailgate slurs from trombonist Mats Äleklint. Overall the program is the logical extension of Barry Guy’s BGNO concept.

06 jazz 01 komedacd006Obara International
For Tune 007

Does it make a difference if musicians performing a work are of the same nationality as its composer? While the concept is iffy at best, sometimes it seems as if nationalism can add an extra oomph to the playing. So it is with this CD, where four Polish jazzmen expand to epic length interpretations of pieces by Krzysztof Komeda. Best known in the West for his soundtrack writing, including Rosemary’s Baby and The Fearless Vampire Killers, Komeda (1931-1969) was also in on the birth of Polish modern jazz and remains the best-known composer from that era.

Overall, the vivid effervescence which characterizes the performance here centres on the contrast between the flowery romanticism of pianist Dominik Wania and the bellicose intensity of alto saxophonist Maciej Obara: a division which often characterizes Polish music in general. Moving between the extremes are bassist Ole Morten Vågan and drummer Gard Nilssen, who provide appropriate secondary textures. Throughout the initial four pieces Wania’s overwrought impressionism, reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s, speedily glides through tracks such as Etiudy Baletowe with busy glissandi that swing powerfully, while Obara’s reed-biting emphasis adds a tough rigidity that tempers the pianist’s more theatrical tendencies.

With the more-than-20-minute Komeda’s Medley, that sutures together three of the composer’s tunes, the four reach perfect and exciting equilibrium. By the mid-section Obara’s stridency has modulated to smoother, yet still powerful tones; while the pianist’s initial Ravel-like cascading uses downward chord clusters to meet the saxophonist’s brittle prickly playing. Eventually as Obara continues spitting out short repeated motifs, it’s Wania’s tripled tremolo lines which powerfully join with the reedist for an appropriate continuum and conclusion.

Nationalism may be more a political than a musical concern in the 21st century, but on Komeda this combination of Polish compositions interpreted by Polish soloists pays unbeatable dividends for the listener.

As genres draw closer to one another, the idea of a musician from one area playing and composing a work in another area doesn’t seem so far-fetched. More importantly the sophistication of many contemporary performers means that these inter-genre excursions are triumphant rather than merely passable. One form that is being explored by improvising musicians for instance is composing for the bedrock of the so-called classical music tradition: string groupings.

waxman 01 uricainecd002Torontonians get a chance to experience this when the Afiara Quartet joins pianist Uri Caine at Koerner Hall May 23 to play his composition for jazz piano and string quartet. Caine who has spent the past 15 years creating intriguing post-modern variants on works by, among others, Bach, Wagner and Mahler, provides a new take on tunes by early jazz-classical crossover icon George Gershwinon Rhapsody in Blue (Winter & Winter 910.205-2). Although it features only Caine, bassist Mark Helias, violinist Joyce Hammann, reedist Chris Speed, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, drummer Jim Black plus vocalists Theo Bleckmann and Barbara Walker, Caine’s take on familiar Gershwin compositions suggests the potential surprises that may result at Koerner Hall. Vocalists provide novel song interpretations, especially on a deconstructed They Can’t Take That Away from Me where yodelling and burbling is harmonized with trumpet triplets and percussion slaps. As well as operating in different metres and tempos, Caine’s solo uniquely shades How Long Has This Been Going On. But it’s the title track which is the CD’s showpiece. With an ensemble one-quarter the size of Paul Whiteman’s band which premiered the concerto in 1924, not only do Caine and company provide a sophisticated jazz sensibility, but his 22-and-a-half-minute-arrangement augments hitherto unexplored nuances in Gershwin’s score. Capturing the famous introductory glissandi, Speed’s clarinet tone includes Klezmer inflections while Alessi’s later call-and-response with the clarinetist adds Latinesque echoes and genuine emotion to the program. At one point when the trumpeter’s apex of excitedly modulated tones is coupled with pseudo-stride piano, it suggests how much more interesting Rhapsody in Blue might have been if initially performed by Louis Armstrong and James P. Johnson. True to the score, especially during Hammon’s violin parts, the sextet reaches an appropriately exciting climax at the 20-minute mark as Black’s thoroughly modern rollicking swing spurs the soloists. By the conclusion, as the underlying beat turns to a witty march rhythm, the theme is extended with jabbing keyboard lines.

waxman 02 vijayiyercd001Also emphatically meeting the string-writing challenge is pianist Vijay Iyer, whose Mutations (ECM CD 2372) is based around ten compositional fragments for string quartet, piano and electronics. More prominent during the solo piano pieces which frame this chef d’oeuvre, electronics gently quiver during Mutations I-X as Iyer generously shares interpretation space with violinists Miranda Cuckson and Michi Wiancko, violist Kyle Armbrust and cellist Kivie Cahn-Lipman. Named for incremental genetic changes, the Mutations sequences are linked, but the through-composed material is structured in such a way that cerebral string improvisation is encouraged and blended both with piano cross-pulsing and recorded samples of the string playing. Concluding with a triumphant eruption of frenzied staccato string passages with an affiliated rhythm in Mutation X: Time, these Mutations cycle through many properties as they evolve. Latterly suggesting canon-like cohesion, earlier variants display skittering string harshness layered as frequently as harmonic cohesion. On Mutation IV: Chain for instance, keyboard patterning and string glissandi cross and re-cross one another following a heartbreaking solo violin interlude, saved from ur-romanticism by Carnatic-like percussion pumps from the lower-pitched strings. Tone laddering and detaching is present throughout the suite, with Iyer maintaining interest by including enough jocular and linear passages to keep the composition organically whole no matter how many sinewy string curves or processed extrusions are involved. A cohesive exploration of the possibilities available from focused composing, Mutations’ shimmering colour palate fittingly expands the steaming blues-jazz inferences in the solo piano tracks which precede and follow it.

From Léandre’s frenzied sawing coupled with sibilant whispers to the emphasis on new roles for mass string ensembles advanced by Salamon, these sessions outline some of the paths to couple improvisation with the liberating compositions for strings. Caine will likely supply yet another concept.

waxman 03 riomarcd005Another move away from idiomatic usage of strings as merely melody sweeteners is exhibited by German trombonist Nils Wogram, who integrates violin, viola and cello into his Root 70 quartet on Riomar (Wog Records 007). Although there are portions towards the end when the harmonizing gets a little too overripe, stabbing staccato from Matt Penman’s supple double bass on a track such as Song for Bernhard roughens the strings to give passages more texture. More generic are pieces such as Vacation without Internet and the title tune where the precarious string-band balance works imposingly. On Riomar Gareth Lubbe’s distinctively mournful viola tone sets the scene appropriately enough so that when Hayden Chisholm’s dissonant alto saxophone timbres sound, the instruments are perfectly matched. From then on, as synchronized strings quiver, solo lines from Wogram (plunger and smeary), cellist Adrian Brendel (sharp and sul ponticello), and Chisholm (spiky or mellow), extend the tunes. With drummer Jochen Rueckert limiting himself to off-beats, Vacation without Internet is even more sophisticated. Not only do the peppy string parts loop around the steady rhythm and rapid-fire bop changes from Wogram, but their other-directed arco plucking at the top combines elegance and earthiness in such a manner that it takes a while to realize that Penman has begun thumping a steady rhythm. Ironically it’s Mental Isolation (dedicated to Duke Ellington) whose spewed and strained microtonal theme elaboration provides the closest resemblance to new music. Then again Wogram’s dazzlingly tremolo tones here follow a direct line from Lawrence Brown`s mellow trombone blowing in the Ellington band.

waxman 04 samofreecd004Dealing with a three-person string section is audacious enough, but Slovenian guitarist Samo Salamon has set himself a more formidable task. On Free Strings Orchestrology (KGOSF VD 013) he and drummer Roberto Dani interpret his compositions alongside the Slovene Philharmonic String Chamber Orchestra of eight violinists, three violists, two cellists and a double bassist. To be honest, dealing with 14 string players at points becomes too onerous, and the resulting synchronized tones can resemble those of a pit orchestra running through an overture. Because of the harmonic juxtaposition, at full force the string parts often produce a too familiar smoothness with waltz, tango and semi-classical inferences, and – especially when the guitarist’s licks merely advance a theme – nearly replicate a sort of James Last/Paul Mauriat lushness. Other tracks are more formal and processional, leavened by Salamon’s spidery licks, or dampened down with an overriding Mozartian classicism. Happily, improvisational toughness from Salamon and Dani rescues most of the program. For instance Mea Culpa moves along with herky-jerky glissandi from the strings and maintains a strong swing emphasis even when the melody takes on an over-familiar lilt. In complete contrast Miss Sarcasm is harsher and more percussive. Here staccato strings advance alongside clanking drums plus a guitar part that turns to bass-guitar-like thumps as it sheepdog-like herds the bow players into connective motions. Dutilleux is probably the CD’s high point, as the guitarist’s distorted timbres and fluid chording are perfectly attuned to the leaping and pulsing strings. Romantic inferences from solo violinist Janez Podlesek join the drummer’s clanking cymbals and the guitarist’s wah-wah pedal to mould the stimulating climax.

waxman 05 theosmilecd003While other discs are concerned with the place of strings in advanced settlings, French violinist/violist Théo Ceccaldi goes one step further, reconstituting the most revered of European ensembles: the string quartet. On Can You Smile (Ayler Records AYLCD 136), his Trio+1 also includes guitarist Guillaume Aknine, cellist Valentin Ceccaldi and bassist Joëlle Léandre. Throughout the emphasis is on atonality, with each player doing his or her best to disrupt the proceedings at the same time as bonding during the 11 compositions. Case in point is Brosse à chaussure where sharp, sul ponticello quivers from the cellist and violist sprawl alongside the guitarist’s chromatic picking, only to mix twangs and triple stopping in an exciting conclusion. On the other hand Sirènes et bas de laine finds Léandre and Aknine strumming a continuum while tremolo glissandi from the viola replicate reed slurs. Finally Hirondelles parcels out the dissonance among all the strings, as every sequence becomes narrower and more staccato, until unexpectedly a measured combination in the final 30 seconds produces a quixotic climax. Throughout, the bassist’s florid nonsense syllable verbalization constantly mocks any high-art pretentiousness associated with a string quartet, while preserving an innate musicality. Fancifully the sounds from this Trio+1 may be what could have resulted if one of the serialists had composed for a Roma ensemble, with the added virtue of a sense of humour.

From Léandre’s frenzied sawing coupled with sibilant whispers to the emphasis on new roles for mass string ensembles advanced by Salamon, these sessions outline some of the paths to couple improvisation with the liberating compositions for strings. Caine will likely supply yet another concept.

Back to top