The Tallest Trees

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Sequoia is a great word – a five-to-two ratio on vowels to consonants for a start, and when spoken out loud, strangely evocative of those giant redwood trees. This kind of Sequoia is Antonio Borghini, Meinrad Kneer, Klaus Kürvers and Miles Perkin.

Italian Antonio Borghini has a fairly formal jazz background, graduating from the Conservatory of Bolgna where he studied under Bruce Gertz, Joëlle Léandre and Barre Phillips, although interestingly and more recently has been involved in trios with Stefano Bollani and Hamid Drake and with Fabrizio Puglisi and Han Bennink. German Meinrad Kneer is another conservatory-educated player, this time Hilversum and Amsterdam. He has collaborated with diverse musicians such as Najma Akhtar, Han Bennink, Fred Frith, Tobias Delius, Tristan Honsinger, Denise Jannah, Paul Lovens, Tony Overwater, Michael Vatcher and Corrie van Binsbergen, and he runs the Evil Rabbit label. Klaus Kürvers is a German architect and writer in addition to being a musician. He has collaborated with Tristan Honsinger, Sven-Åke Johansson and Zeitkratzer. Canadian Miles Perkin, at 34 the youngest Sequoia (or should I say “sapling”?), has previous work released under the titles Miles Perkin Quartet and Common Thread. On Rotations, each player inhabits his own section of the stereo field; for example Antonio Borghini is allocated “middle left”, Meinrad Kneer “far right” and so on. I’m tempted to be childish and speculate that these notes may be derived from their political opinions, but I’ll try to desist.

Immediately you press play on this, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into a small sweaty upstairs room in a daze at the end of a long Saturday on your feet in town all day, where you encounter a manic grouping featuring several dozen robot Dom Lash clones. Perhaps this is closer in feel to the versatility of Klaus Janek’s playing rather than the stripped down style of Mr Lash. Either way, I’m all for it – a no holds barred demonstration of the possibilities in this instrument; even if it is coming from the more straight and formal end of the world of improvisation. This opener, ‘Resting Crows’, is over quickly but sets out the concept of four bassists perfectly. You can almost feel the physical force the players are putting, leaning on their bows, such is the feeling of moving air pressure. Three minutes of sheer attack over perhaps a little too quickly.

The second piece, ‘Birdcages’, utilizes pizzicato technique played in the round to build up the effect of instrument placement. It creeps along like an extra suspenseful section of a Bernard Herrmann score. There are then the first of two interludes, each a duration of just over a minute (tracks 3 and 5); I is harmonic and cyclical, II is a bit more loose. Personally, I have heard albums where an interlude of “silence” or very quiet information is used to better effect; these function more like very short pieces in their own right, as the musicians are quite maximal in their approach.

The title track is nearly fifteen minutes of exploration. Here the players can stretch their legs a bit, and of all the pieces, this seems to be mostly about the natural development of an idea. After the second interlude, ‘Lifts & Escalators’ starts with a drone, and continues over its almost seven minute duration in much the same way. Someone gives the impression of overtones, but I might be imagining it. Portamento is used compositionally here, while ‘Inside’ is like a creaky ship; Sequioia employ all manner of techniques to play “inside” their instruments. Tapping, bowing of the wood, creaking, activating the strings with their hands, rubbing, one of the instruments even sounds like its breathing around three and a half minutes.

I’d call this music improvisation but in the sleeve notes, the musicians choose to use the term compositions. Whether this is just a handy term for them to describe what they do as a group or whether there exists a written score for these pieces is unknown, however. Overall, enjoyable though the music is, there is an overarching feeling of the presence and pointed demonstration of technique here. Musicians from a formal background covet their technique, sometimes to the detriment of everything else in my experience, and although this music does not suffer from it, I am left very much aware of it, when I’d prefer the music to speak for itself. Recorded May 2012 but released 2014, housed in a black die-cut card sleeve arranged with a circular window through which the picture, (a close-up of a freshly sawn tree stump in a forest), on the insert card can be seen “rotated” one of four ways.