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Jazz Weekly


Creating a vehicle in which a larger group of musicians can participate in non-idiomatic improvisation has been one European conception that has only recently absorbed in North American. Even so, most large improvising ensembles on this continent usually draw their organizational structure from Free Jazz. That's why this CD, by a mixture of Europeans and Americans, is so memorable. Pooling memories and experience and without relying on call and response, vamps or raucous solos work, the eight players create something that's firmly in the atmospheric EuroImprov heritage, yet adds something of its own to the seven instant compositions named for their duration.

Other differences arise from the ensemble's shortage of horn players -- only three are represented -- and a corresponding preponderance of strings -- four, including an amplified, acoustic guitarist. Furthermore, German percussionist Martin Blume, who usually works in smaller groups with the likes of British violinist Phil Wachsmann -- also on hand here --is about as far away from a big beat, big band drummer as possible.

Slaps, clips and punches, not to mention stick and brush pressures, replace fixed rhythmic pulses in his vocabulary here. And no other player takes up the beat function. Perhaps the closest thing to ostinato would be the slurs and tongue slaps from the bass clarinet of Los Angeles resident Chris Heenan, who also plays alto saxophone here, and the bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet of Berlin's Wolfgang Fuchs.

Fuchs, whose other instrument is sopranino saxophone, has recently been touring in trio formations. But the squeals, squeaks, and split tones he adds to MOUNT WASHINGTON, not to mention the aggregation's size, are reminiscent of his larger band, the King Übü Orchestrü. Both Wachsmann, whose virtuosity with unconventional techniques and electronic extensions have allied him to improvisers like British saxophonist Evan Parker; and Vancouver, B.C.-based bassist Torsten Müller, whose ponticello bowing and light-fingered pizz set him apart from other time-keepers; are part of King Übü.

Harpist Anne LeBaron, whose impressive arpeggio command often makes it difficult to ascribe notes to her, the bassist or violinist, has worked in larger groups with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and smaller bands with composer Earl Howard. Trombonist Tucker Dulin, now in San Diego, was involved in Masashi Harada's Conduction Ensemble with Bostonians like trumpeter Greg Kelley. Like Kelley he plays up the soundsource coloration rather than the brassiness of his horn. Even guitarist Jeremy Drake, whose main experience is in small groups with other guitarists and percussionists, makes it a point here to fill an ensemble rather than soloist role.

The fourth tune matches the spiky scratch of the massed strings with expanded bouncing paradiddles from Blume plus curved ostinato and tongue slaps from the lower-pitched reeds. Miniscule slide position twists and turns occupy Dulin, while glissando rallies from the harp expand Müller's pedal point and wood-rending tones.

Snaky, swirling tongue stopped slurs and backwards growls from the reeds answer Drake's raucous guitar tones as does spiccato bowing from the bassist and fiddler on the second piece. Smack in the middle are harp reverberations that use a rhythm and harmony to sound like a Romanian cymbalum. As each distinctive tone is plucked, one of the reedists bisects it with tongue slaps and irregular vibrations. Fittingly the climax follows speedy bass lines, fingerpicking guitar fills and shrill reed tonguing that unrolls almost above human hearing range.

Quieter tracks may be concerned with alchemically transforming tongue bubbles and reed chirrups into near electronic oscillations or how col legno or uncomplicated arco bowing can produce unconnected, legato tones. But extensive exploration makes the nearly 13 minute fifth track stand out.

As trilling reeds expand sounds that could come from a packed aviary, linear movement arrives from the shuffle bowing bass, legato violin strokes and rivet cymbal echoes. Locomotive power from the consolidated strings dissolve into plinks, slashes and plucks as bird whistles and tongue slaps from the reeds and pedal point trombonism joins with the other instruments, building to a crescendo of undifferentiated pitches. Tremolo, irregular vibrations eventually give way to loggy arco violin lines, grainy horn smears and what could be someone whistling.

Although there are more wavering buzzes, expanding dissonant pitches, split tone squeals than mellow, legato tones on this CD, no one with an ear attuned to modern sounds should be frightened. Instead he or she can hear how an afternoon, one-time-only interaction in a Mount Washington, Calif. sunken living room could produce a new, memorable way to hear and perform non-idiomatic improvisation.

-Ken Waxman




Squids Ear


An intriguing recording in many ways, this disc documents a rare joint venture of European and American free improvisers. While there have been many such examples of collectives in the past, these have pretty well occurred across the Big Pond rather than Stateside. But on April 10, 2003, eight musicians found their way to Southern California for an event called the Line Fest. Included here are three Germans (drummer Martin Blume, reedist Wolfgang Fuchs and bassist Torsten Müller - the latter now residing in Vancouver), one Englishman (violinist Philip Wachsmann) and four Americans (harpist Ann LeBaron, guitarist Jeremy Drake, trombonist Tucker Dullin and altoist and bass clarinetist Chris Heenan). It's striking to note that the Europeans are (for once) much better known than their US counterparts (excepting the harpist, of course). But this doesn't mean that the former outshine the latter by virtue of their reputation. Quite to the contrary, because this ensemble is a real collective in which the whole counts more than its individual parts. When it comes to medium to larger sized improvisational groups, there are generally two ways to go about things: either everyone takes a rip and casts aside the need to listen, or each participant chooses to maximize listening by replacing the power play with a greater degree of individual discipline and restraint. For the most part, this ensemble follows the latter course rather than the former, which ought to be expected four string players present. On another count, the inclusion of Wolfgang Fuchs is very telling as well, for he is known as being the nominal leader of a similar size group, the King Übü Orchestrü, an exemplary outfit in terms of group discipline in free music playing. Describing this music is pretty well futile, but still one senses a kind of polarity between the winds and the strings throughout, in that one group of instruments tends to dominate the proceedings for a while, only to let the other take over. Of the seven unnamed tracks (spanning 5 to 12 minutes each) lasting just a little over an hour of total playing time, the final one is probably the most revealing in terms of this shift: whereas the beginning is dominated by hard attacks from the reeds and bone, the horn slowly make room for the pizzicato strings that gradually decrease their activity to a sparse finale. As is the case of much improvised music, the whole process is where the interest lies, and there's no doubting the fact that anyone privy to this session (done in the large living room of a painter friend of Chris Heenan) would have gotten the most out of this. A recording, however well done technically, never quite captures the magic of the event unfolding in real time. Even if this writer might be jaded by his privilege of having such easy access to so much of this kind of music, he is not compelled very often often to go back and listen to works such as this on a regular basis.


-Mark Chenard




All Music Guide

A number of European free improvisers crossing the Atlantic to perform at the Line Space Line Festival; a couple of American organizers and improvisers themselves, eager to put together a large project; a friend offering his large living room in Mount Washington: everything just fell into place for Chris Heenan and Jeremy Drake to bring their vision to life. Thus, this CD documents the first meeting of eight musicians: Martin Blume (percussion), Tucker Dulin (trombone), Wolfgang Fuchs (reeds), Anne Lebaron (harp), Torsten Müller (contrabass), Philipp Wachsmann (violin), Drake (guitar), and Heenan (reeds). There are several pitfalls to free improvisation in large groupings, but Mount Washington actually turned out fine. The fact that most if not all of the players are seasoned large-ensemble improvisers (with King Übü Örchestrü, Company, Masashi Harada's Condanction Ensemble) surely explains part of its success. The level of listening is commendable, there is plenty of excitement and fascinating dialogues and counter-dialogues, and the whole thing remains under control without sounding too contrived. Fuchs and Heenan have a few nice bass clarinet exchanges in the sixth of these seven untitled tracks. Harp and acoustic guitar also develop an interesting partnership. Müller's opening quasi-solo in the last piece also provides a highlight. The sound quality is more than sufficient to clearly enjoy everyone's contribution. Mount Washington might not be compelling enough to wish for the ensemble to be reconvened, but it makes a satisfying document.

-François Couture



Aiding and Abetting

Chris Heenan and seven friends just hanging out for an afternoon last spring. An improvisational mini-orchestra, if you will. Every sound is represented: percussion, strings, brass and reeds. Now, these folks are crafty; they often do things to their instruments that "normal" players would never dream of doing. Which is why this is so cool. For me, improvisations work if they engage me. A lot of improvisational music is just about making noise. That's not very interesting. These folks are making noise, but they're doing it in concert with each other, reacting to what they're hearing. That these folks have years and years of experience in this type of music is also important. The uninitiated ear might hear just the jumble, but there is a line of thought that is being passed around individually and collectively. It's easier to find that line if you don't try. But then, this music is about letting go. And the faster you fall, the better the trip.




Touching Extremes

An occasional meeting of eight improvising artists: Martin Blume, Jeremy Drake, Tucker Dulin, Wolfgang Fuchs, Chris Heenan, Anne LeBaron, Torsten Müller and Philipp Wachsmann, recorded in a single day in Los Angeles. Everything's paced according the spur of the moment, producing some serious tightrope walking among more "orchestral" conversations. The high recording quality helps catching every single tonal complexion; apparent clashes disclose instead non-stop mingling of radical research for unconventional timbres and an interplay that quite often gets almost swinging. The complete lack of thematic/harmonic staying power is paradoxically a major propulsive force of the project: this is the perfect picture of a combination destined to be considered and remembered as unique - and therefore beautiful, like a one-of-a-kind creature.

-Massimo Ricci





Mucchio selvaggio senza ombra di dubbio, Mount Washington è torrenziale esibizione crepuscolare di forza e perizia estremamente suadente nata quasi per caso da una serie di circostanze favorevoli. Nel 2003 Jeremy Drake (chitarra acustica amplificata) e Chris Heenan (sax alto e clarinetto basso) si ritrovano insieme per una performance al Line Space Line Festival nella quale coinvolgono anche Wolfgang Fuchs (sax soprano e clarinetto basso), Torsten Müller (contrabasso) e Anne Le Baron (arpa). Poi grazie ad una e-mail si uniscono Martin Blume (percussioni) e Philipp Wachsmann (violino ed elettronica), ma non è finita perchè da San Diego arriverà anche l'apporto di Tucker Dulin (trombone) che in qualche maniera definisce e rende completa questa sorta di all stars band.

Si effettuano i live e poi ci si ritrova tutti insieme nella casa-studio del pittore amico di Chris Heenan Patrick Wilson dove si procede in breve alla registrazione del materiale da tramandare ai posteri. Quello che ci rigiriamo fra le mani quindi è una rilassata ed assai a nervi scoperti chiacchierata fra strumenti che si rincorrono a fiato spianato sulle ali di una ritmica sempre in bilico fra solismo ed accompagnamento per poi fermarsi all'improvviso piuttosto meditabondi in lunghe pause nervose e borbottanti in cerca del prossimo svincolo o casello autostradale da percorrere senza nessunissima fretta in uno svolgimento assai poco meditato parrebbe ma piuttosto figlio di un sano divertimento esecutivo che piace e convince. Scampoli colemaniani e cascate di note di marca Cecil Taylor ci avvolgono lasciando spesso il campo a più moderne suggestioni che ci piace immaginare figlie del lavoro di Peter Kowald si susseguono in maniera fluida e piacevole lasciando notevole spazio alla densità ed alla ricerca timbrica degli strumenti. Sicuramente una concezione di impro estremamente classica rispetto alle nuove tendenze in corso di sviluppo attuale (mi viene da citare l'ultimo degli Efzeg tanto per fare un esempio) ma estremamente ben riuscito nel suo ampio respiro notturno quasi incubo burroughsiano.

Possibile colonna sonora alternativa per Il Pasto Nudo.....

-Marco Carcasi






Mount Washington