Orion’s Belt

We’ve previously heard a solo record by the French viola player Frantz Loriot, the 2015 album Reflections On An Introspective Path, which is an interesting benchmark of the extremes to which he’s prepared to go when he’s pushing to find new sounds on his vicious, biting stringed device. Good to see he’s found some like-minded fellows to make music with on Orion (WIDE EAR RECORDS WER022), where he’s joined by four other players to form the quintet Im Wald. Actually the above doesn’t properly represent the release, which is in fact composed and led by Tobias Meier, the Swiss composer and saxophonist. I just hapen to like Loriot, so we have to dive in somewhere.

Meier’s a real maverick when it comes to occupying and colonising that disputed space that lies between composition and improvisation. “He is interested in architectural gestures,” according to his own web page, “the scenarios and methods of design, the setting of tonal coordinates, along which the music gradually develops.” I kinda like this approach which seems to see music making as something similar to drawing a map, trying to tame the wilderness with grid references and longitudes. I might think he likens it to using CAD software, a process which also relies on plot points to create drawings and images, but such a suggestion would overlook the all-acoustic nature of this Im Wald record.

The other players include Matthias Spillmann, who is blowing constrained and taut passages on his trumpet as though his own life was in danger. You’d think he had a gun to his head and was bound and gagged in the basement of some masked kidnapper, petrified with terror. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad way to elicit a performance of great tension from any improviser. I might even advocate a programme of kidnapping improvisers on that basis, or even do that just for the hell of it. Loving these deathly Spillmann trumpet tones. He’s another Swiss guy who also puffs the flugelhorn and is well represented in many jazz bands, mostly appearing on the Swiss label Unit Records.

Additionally there’s the cello work of Nicola Romanò, and the bass of Raffaele Bossard. I’m not sure which of these sawing dudes is responsible for the lovely bassoid creaks and drones that underpin these tension-filled performances. But they both add a palpable air of menace to the whole Orion album, as though we’re waiting in slow motion for some dreaded event to pass, which we can see looming before us on the horizon. Both these guys are Swiss too so it looks like Loriot is the token French player here, even if he is also half Japanese.

Two of the tracks here refer to star formations (‘Nebulae’ and ‘Orion’) and immediately suggest the vastness of space. The music also creates space. This must be where the architectural gestures come into it. Carving up space like a town planner. The idea is “open and multi-layered sound fields”. We need more of these in the world, if this is anything to go by. If produced more actively, such fields might open up all sorts of possibilities for education, politics, and the environment. They would certainly help free the mind, give a man a chance to think. Meier is trying to bring together tiny musical gestures and large blocks of a grand design together in the same schema. To convey this, he uses the metaphor of a forest. Others, myself included, use less familiar metaphors, but the end result is the same. Meier somehow manages to keep his work creeping along with a slow but undeniable force, like the power of eighteen snails harnessed to a wind farm. He calls this an “agile organism”, but I call it liquid jelly…jelly laced with explosives that release their energy in a long, protracted ka-boom.

It takes rare skill to maintain this level of control and discipline for long periods of time, and these five fire-eaters are just the boys to do it. Although these understated acoustic drones may appear unassuming at first, you’ll soon be drawn into the zero-gravity zones they create, and find yourself exploring a vast realm of the unknown. Issued in a nifty screenprinted box and an art print foldout, with notes by Berni Doesegger, a mini-essay which he calls “The Space Of Music”. A slow-burning package of woodwind and string goodliness. From 21st September 2016.

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