The final disc finds Forsyth teaming with multi-reedist Chris Heenan, here playing alto saxophone, bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet. Integrating reeds into contemporary electro-acoustic improvisation has been an ongoing challenge, one that is rarely met with much success as the musicians are generally unable to cast aside the “baggage” accrued (in all likelihood) from years of jazz or jazz-influenced playing, something that ill fits the current format. Heenan deals with this conundrum in pretty convincing fashion, especially on the lower clarinets that allow him to dwell more often in the purely sonic aspects of the winds as opposed to the history that, despite all best intentions, tends to percolate up on the alto. As on the prior disc, Forsyth remains subdued, occupying generally tonal zones or layering waves of static, constructing fairly lush matrices for Heenan to weave amongst. There’s a lull of sorts in the middle of the disc as matters get perhaps a bit too relaxed, but the first couple of tracks, “I am not a technologist” and “I listen” as well as the final “I like the way you use language” (leaving aside the odd use of titular “I’s” in a duo recording) are fascinating, intricately evolving works.
Silent creeping and articulated flurries come out of guitars, sax and clarinet like the most natural thing in the world. Even in its "uneasy" parts, Forsyth and Heenan's speech flows and pads, making itsy-bitsy particles on the course to an absolutely non-viable consonance. The music, characteristically imaginative and full of breathing spaces, also consists of plunks and whirring hoaxes likely to have your nose itchy and your ears in need of a good reassessment of their sound-catching capabilities. Sudden illusory hooks make you follow invisible patterns, through which the two Chrises will leave you naked with all your presumptions while their instruments keep the placid sabotage going, its results finding you still wandering clueless.
Chris Forsyth/Chris Heenan
Reifyrecordings RE 002
Jon Mueller/Bhob Rainey/Jim Schoenecker
Crouton Music crou023
Essays in microtonalism, these discs serve a dual purpose.
They show how American improvisers have gradually adopted glacially paced improv to their own needs -- taking clues from European free musicians who, it should be noted, were initially inspired by Yank Free Jazzers. Additionally, the duo and trio members involved in each CD demonstrate how dexterous command of their chosen instruments can produce memorable electro-acoustic sessions, whether electronics are involved or not.
Each band includes a saxophonist, but that’s where the similarities end.
Both discs also involve partners from different cities showing how far this sub-genre of improv is spreading. Old hand at this type of miniscule musical elaboration is Boston-based soprano saxophonist Bhob Rainey, who now works with European microtonalists like French saxist Michel Doneda and German inside pianist Andrea Neumann as well as in the nmperign duo with trumpeter Greg Kelley. His partners here are two Milwaukee, Wis.-based players, percussionist Jon Mueller, who has also worked with the bands Pele and cellist Matt Turner; and synthesizer player Jim Schoenecker who releases electronic music CDs under the name “pressboard”.
Besides the synthesizer textures he brings to the table, Mueller manages to create distinctive tones by amplifying his drums through a home stereo system. Yet the performers on the other disc manage to formulate similar tones with no electronica in sight except for a guitar amp. Granted, though, both players thrive on the cutting edge of this sort of faux electric improv. New York-based guitarist Chris Forsyth works with advanced performers like pianist Dan DeChellis and fellow guitarist Ernesto Diaz-Infante. Los Angeles-based Chris Heenan who plays alto saxophone, bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet here, has also worked with Diaz-Infante and further afield with German reedists Wolfgang Fuchs and Frank Gratkowski.
On the trio session one and two minute detonations of shattering percussiveness on the first and final tracks surround the meat of the action that takes place on two tracks of respectively nearly 26 and almost 20 minutes each.
Evolving from near silence, “[here teething moths have passed]” often sounds as if its reflecting those tiny varmints digging holes in perishable items. Featuring an underlying synthesizer hiss, cymbals are scraped and struck with a metal whisk, while burbling multiphonics roll from the saxophone, which then gradually become louder and throatier. It appears as if Rainey is blowing colored air through his gooseneck, as Mueller rotates items on the studio floor. Elsewhere, extended reed techniques range from a factory whistle-like shrill to honking Bronx cheers, duck-like quacks and squeaks and the panting of small, furry animals. Those mammals are evidentially unfettered in the studio, for cymbals and snares often sound as if they’re being scratched by the claws of the same beasts.
Ultimately, following pitch vibrations from the synth that could as easily come from a jackhammer or circular saw, plus sax tones created by blowing through the unattached mouthpiece, heightened sine waves cackles and crackles melt the trio’s individual textures back to stasis.
Similarly, “[holes]” is as much a record of the spaces between sounds as the notes themselves. Mueller appears to be searching for something within his trap set and hitting the odd percussion item by chance and without melody. Rainey contributes lightly breathed mouth noises and reed split tones that are dissonant, loud and finally split into pointillism. The percussionist propels his rim shots anywhere but the drumhead and an oscillating pulsation arise from Schoenecker’s reductionist energy transformation. It’s probably a testimony to all concerned that when the piece concludes with a very faint sound bubble, you’re not sure to which instrument you should ascribe it.
In New York a couple of months earlier there isn’t much question which tones arise from the reed arsenal and which from the guitar electronics during that CD’s six tracks. But both men are able to create enough references to non-specific intonations to move things along.
Heenan’s most distinctive timbres arise from the bottom-feeding contrabass clarinet, which he plays with the facility of Europeans like Fuchs and Swiss Hans Koch. But he never flaunts the overgrown horn’s tone on its own. Often moving from one horn to another within the pieces, snorting bellows mix with extensive tongue slaps, honks and general mouth percussion. One moment, as on “I begin to understand”, he reverberates shrill, treetop-high trills and the next minute is involved in gelatinous low-pitched growls. Meantime, Forsyth flat picks on the front of his strings then on the area beneath the bridge and uses a constant turn around as an ostinato.
Elsewhere, as on “I am not a technologist”, what sound like pealing bells and radio signal whistles arise from somewhere or someone. As the two players harmonically hit against one another’s tones like bumper cars in a carnival ride, Heenan produces legato alto lines as easily as sibilant, juicy reed gouts. Pulsating an undertone of snaps and thumps, the guitarist’s output include wood scrapes, circular hand movements and accompanying rumbles.
Then there’s the suggestion that both men are trying to channel waves from a recalcitrant radio by turning the dial every which way -- but only reaching static and sine waves. On top of this, the reedist sounds wounded animal cries in false registers, while the guitarist bangs on his axe’s front to create even more static.
Ironically, “I listen more” is the only time that Forsyth indulges in a burst of reverberating guitar feedback, but it’s only one trick pony among his stable that includes harsh, banjo-like flailing, sudden down stroked rhythmic patterns, and slurred fingering. Heenan’s riposte includes resonating growls from deep within his horn’s body tube, compressed honks and keening flutter tonguing.
Made in U.S.A. microtonalism, both these CDs will impress anyone interested in following one aspect of how homegrown improv is evolving.
Aiding and Abetting
A tale of two Chrises: Forsyth on the guitar and Heenan on reeds (alto sax, bass and contrabass clarinet). Improvisational to the extreme.
Fans of these two guys know that they prefer to use their instruments in, shall we say, non-traditional ways. Forsyth is just as comfortable using his guitar as percussion as he is wringing melodies from the strings, and Heenan sounds just as good not blowing a note as he does hitting one.
I'm just guessing here, but I think the six pieces here were recorded live to tape, with no overdubs. That's pretty impressive considering the wide ranges of noise that populate each piece. In particular, Heenan seems to be shifting between instruments in fairly rapid order. Or maybe I'm just hearing things funny.
All of the song titles are statements that begin with "I" ("I Am Not a Technologist," "I Listen," etc.). I'm sure there's a point to that, but right now I have no idea what it might be. I simply enjoyed listening two fertile minds plumb the depths of sound and find some striking gems.
All Music Guide
This eponymous CD presents an intimate free improv studio session between guitarist Chris Forsyth and saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Heenan. It catches Forsyth in a slightly calmer mood. He is spending less time on squeezing out noisy textures from his prepared electric guitar in order to stick to a more conventional finger-on-strings approach -- conventional in the physical sense only. His playing is at times reminiscent of Derek Bailey (in the fingering, the fast-paced runs, the spasmodic flow), but most of the music has a highly personal feel. Heenan is an excellent mate: his silence-based approach brings to mind Wolfgang Fuchs, Michel Doneda, and John Butcher: lots of overtones, controlled squeaks, and graceful arabesques between and outside the notes. The session seems to follow a general course from the quiet and textural to a form of music slightly more extroverted and tone-based, culminating in the two strongest pieces, "I Begin to Understand" and "I Like the Way You Use Language." Precise and puzzling, the music remains somewhat cold and uninvolving, as if it had problems transcending its self-imposed aridity, thus keeping the listening experience confined to the intellect. Fans of Forsyth's duets with Ernesto Diaz-Infante may find this one a little dry.
Prima collaborazione, se non andiamo errati, tra i due Chris, Forsyth e Heenan, musicisti molto attivi nel circuito dell’improvvisazione; il primo, chitarrista newyorkese e membro dei PSI, il secondo, sassofonista/clarinettista di base a Los Angeles, entrambi, con mille collaborazioni alle spalle insieme ai maggiori esponenti del settore. Di stanza a Los Angeles è anche l’etichetta che immortala questo incontro, la Reify, che ha all’attivo appena una manciata di pubblicazioni ma che si mostra già meritevole di attenzione. Il territorio su cui si incontrano i due è quello, solito per loro, dell’impro e della musica sperimentale. Forsyth maneggia la sua chitarra utilizzando il meno possibile le corde, cercando piuttosto di lavorare su jacks, picks ed effetti digitali vari, Heenan, di par suo, segue la scuola più avant del jazz, soffiando nel clarinetto e nel sax nel modo meno umano possibile, e quindi alla maniera dei nmperign, giusto per fare un nome. Suonano secchi e senza orpelli, rumorosi e disturbanti; in mezzo a tutto questo ci sono silenzi (pochi), stridori, suoni metallici, nebulose sonore, tessuti industriali, sbuffi e note strozzate. Tutta roba che abbiamo ascoltato e che ci piace sempre ascoltare, soprattutto quando è proposta in modo così convincente come in questa occasione, in particolar modo quando, in alcuni momenti, vediI Listen More e I Begin To Understand, se ne escono con numeri di alta scuola. In questi frangenti, infatti, riconoscibili barlumi di sonorità portano a momenti più digeribili ma anche più piacevoli: Forsyth torna ad accarezzare le corde della chitarra prodigandosi in blues distorti e trasfigurati mentre Heenan suona il sax come un degno free-jazzman europeo. Situazioni, queste appena descritte, che dimostrano che, se vogliono, questi due signori sono capaci anche di sciorinare quella giusta dose di accessibilità in grado di fargli compiere il definitivo salto di qualità.
- Alfredo Rastelli