Locking Horns

The CD Live at Jazzfestival Willisau (VETO-RECORDS / EXCHANGE 005 CD) documents a concert exchange between Lucerne and Chicago-based jazzers during 2010. The Luzern / Chicago Connection (for it is they) are a six piece, coming from good homes and possessing hefty pedigrees, who perform a patchwork of scored and free pieces. I’ve put this in the present tense as I presume (?) this project is still an ongoing concern. And yet even if shoulders have been rubbed with Br√∂tzmann snr, Olivia Block, Christy Doran etc. etc., the tracks on show really do fail to ignite. Everything’s just a little too polite and excuse me, thank you very much, especially vocalist/scatster Isa Wiss’s showcase “Willisau Thing”/”Poor Feathers”, which brings on memories of The Two Ronnies‘ musical interludes where a m.o.r. jazz chantoozie like Marian Montgomery or indeed Elaine Delmar riffs on a Beatles’ medley or some kinda lounge standard. It just makes me want to clutch my Edge Of Time LP by Norma Winstone just a little bit more tightly to my chest…Precious little friction is created, with a group dynamic that seems to indulge in endless taxying with little hope of achieving actual flight. Much of this is due to the instrumental set up as the onus falls on the trombone of Jeb Bishop to be the lead voice. As any fule kno, the ‘bone is hardly the most athletic/nimble member of the brass family, but Jeb soldiers on manfully nonetheless as does the supporting cast. Check out the jagged piano runs of Hans Pfammatter (reminiscent of Rip Rig & Panic’s Mark Springer) and the rain-on-roof patter of drummist Frank Rosaly – but best search ’em out in more sympathetic hook-ups and settings. Not here. Sadly. (Veto Records, Luzernstrasse 4, CH-6206 New Church, Switzerland)


Which brings me to the High Wire (NOW ORCHESTRA RECORDS CLNOW007) CD by Coat Cooke & Rainer Wiens. It’s funny how certain sleeve artistry can swivel its hips and sell you the perfect dummy as regards its contents. A scratchy line drawing of the duo (20c euro-surrealist stick figures v Jad Fair-style handiwork), seems to suggest two men, eyeballs on stalks, on a Ted Milton meets Chadbourne’s ‘Rake’ trip, but these Canadian free jazzers generate a more subtle range of moods a couple of notches below ‘raging’ – if you will. Coat’s sax lines can be skidaddingly busy (“Storm Eye”) and, on occasion, suspenseful/measured (“Space Landing”) while Rainer appears to be a guitar manipulator of an extreme stripe. All those familiar attributes of the gitbox are utterly blown to smithereens and possibly beyond. The fiend. A fiend whose vocab of wide-ranging metallic sonorities has certain echoes in the work of fellow countryman Tim Olive, perhaps. So strap yourselves in for a soundworld where hailstones (as big as ball bearings) splatter against rusted metal railings and then combine with clanking percussive broadsides and the moan of a defective slinky made entirely of rusted cutlery. Or not?…a couple of pics of this noisesome beast would’ve been really useful. For me, the high point of all this plucked and blown activity has to be the ten minutes plus of “Elevation” in which the guitar thing from Planet X is stood down in favour of the gentler sproing of the thumb piano. The lyrical sax moves had me scribbling in a previous draft “John Surman on a fact finding mission within deepest Africa” and I see no reason to amend that really… It’s a stellar track and a fascinating collection to boot. The CD’s title suggests a fine line between assured movement and collapse. This is assured movement as sure as eggs. This comes from the Now Orchestra imprint, which is also responsible for the formation of a sixteen man improv ork in which Barry Guy, George Lewis and Marilyn Crispell have taken guest spots over the past few years.


By a strange coincidence, the Swiss net label Insubordinations are also responsible for the co-ordinating a large (45 deep!!) improv ork called the ‘Insub Meta Orchestra’ or I.M.O. Small world no? Perhaps we should do a little matchmaking between them and the Now Orchestra? Anyway, Insub are a small to middling, but perfectly formed set-up that has focused on euro free/improv and electro-acoustic disciplines since 2009. Sixty releases and counting. Number CD05 (don’t ask) is The Fire Throws (INSUBORDINATIONS [insubcd05]) by Trigger: a Berlin-based unit who bite down on a lot of reed and get acres of mileage out of being, unusually, an all wind trio. Consisting of Matthias Muller on Trombone, trumpeter Nils Ostendorf and on contrabass clarinet (the ‘Typhoid Mary’ of the woodwind section…): Chris Heenan, who reproduces the rattle of an outboard motor and the imagined voice of a grumbling appendix at the drop of a hat. Losing themselves in multi-phonics and advanced circular breathing techniques (as in “I certainly didn’t have a Paul Flaherty-length beard when we started this number!!”), I can easily imagine the studio walls bowing like rubber as the three furrowed brow-men lock horns for a group inhale. A stark and effects-free production where every miniscule sound is wrote large and clear. Witness the furtive scuffling of “Tufa” and the spectacle-misting multi-breath tones of “Talus” in which near silence sax manipulator Jean-Luc Gionnet and Mats Gustafsson’s …Lars Jerry LP spring to mind. All things told, this comes as an intriguing communique from the domain of the many-lunged ones. The only (?) other trio that I can recall that had roughly the same m.o. as Trigger was The Three Holes, a Russian combo from the late eighties whose stand alone LP was found on Melodiya Records…and they are but a pale shadow in comparison…

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