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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Five Clarinets and Five Saxes ....

By Stef

In the incredible piles of music that are still waiting for review (and for first listens), I still felt miserable not to have had the time to review quite a number of them, including the ones reviewed today.

What today's review have in common, is that two existing reed quartets, one clarinet quartet from Poland, and one sax quartet from the US, both quite close in their adventurous approach to music, now invited a fifth musician, a like-minded spirit, although with a different background, to come and join them and challenge them, Joe McPhee and John Zorn respectively. The results are somewhat unusual, yet easy to recommend for the amateurs of new sounds.

Mikołaj Trzaska Clarinet Quintet - IRCHA - Lark Uprising (Multikulti, 2011) **** 

Polish clarinetist Mikołaj Trzaska created his fabulous clarinet quartet with some fellow countrymen and the great Joe McPhee. The band is Joe McPhee on alto clarinet, Mikołaj Trzaska on alto clarinet and bass clarinet, Paweł Szamburski on clarinet and bass clarinet, Wacław Zimpel on bass clarinet, clarinet, taragato, and Michał Górczyński on bass clarinet.

It's hard to say how their system works, whether the arrangements are discussed before or whether they arise while playing, but whatever it is, the result is baffling at moments. The five musicians manage to create rhythm, structure, harmonics, melody and improvisation with alternating roles about who takes the lead and who lays down the foundations. In that sense you can call it jazz in its purest form.

Yet they add more levels to this. First, there is the voice of the various musicians, raw with emotion, soaring with joy, twittering like birds, weeping in sadness.

Second, there is the adventurous approach of the concept itself, a kind of a common natural journey, an ode to music and life and it possibilities, including the escape from the unavoidable sorrow, equally present here. The line-up itself intensifies this myriad of possibilities because the similar sounds flow through each other with the impossibility to follow one instrument in its progress, they move as one, but with five voices, coming and going, and moving up, and down, intensifying and relaxing, coming forward, stepping back. Everything happens, but it is actually one voice.

Third, with the five musicians, they manage to create an intimate conversation, a warm meeting of wooden sounds, nothing expansive, just showing a different perspective to everyday life. 

ROVA : Zorn - The Receiving Surfaces (Metalanguage, 2011) **** 

On this limited edition LP, the ROVA saxophone quartet invites John Zorn for 37 minutes of a soothening shock treatment, that will set your nerves on edge, while possibly also resulting in mental peace.

The five saxes are Jon Raskin on baritone, Larry Ochs on tenor, Steve Adams on alto and sopranino, Bruce Ackley on soprano, and John Zorn on alto. The album captures a performance by the quintet at Yoshi’s in San Francisco in August, 2010.

As said in the opening lines, you get it all on this record : the absolute mayhem of five saxes doing different things at the same time, with Zorn's usual and exceptionally shrill sound piercing through the warmer tones of the Rova quartet, while at other moments, the hair-raising sounds fold beautifully into harmonious textures, on which the full breadth of low and high-toned horns lead to a feeling of aesthetic beauty, while remaining open-ended.

The end result is the feeling that you have survived something, that you have come through the storm unharmed, no, even stronger, it is because you have been subjected to the violence of the storm and feared the worst, that you can experience the calmer sounds at the end of the album in a totally different way. The contrast and the effect are almost purifying and cathartic.

© stef