By Paul Acquaro
Gunter 'Baby' Sommer's 'Melting Game' recorded with The New Trio begins with a mournful and longing sound. The folk like melody of 'Hymnus' rolls from Floros Floridis' clarinet as Sommer's drums roil below. As the forlorn melody progresses, bluesy shadings and shouts fill in the spaces, while Akira Ando's bass provides just the right amount of counter melody. The song draws you in as it tries to lodge itself neatly somewhere between your heart and throat.
The first song sets the stage for the collection that follows. Next, trying on a rhythm that vaguely suggests cowboy boots and Stetson hats, 'Shuffle to WH' features a loping rhythm and a bass clarinet solo that juxtaposes the subtler side of the instrument with its wilder one, often in the same phrase. The clarinet cadenza that opens 'Hora' invokes a more melancholic atmosphere, this time with Klezmer shadings. Here, Sommer employs all sorts of additional percussion over Ando's long bowed lines. Another highlight is the evocative saxophone solo that bursts out after the long atmospheric build of 'Inside-Outside-Shout.' My favorite two songs are sequenced at the end of the recording. 'Salpismata' starts off with the bass and drums playing a somewhat funky and free introduction, and as the tune progresses the clarinet work really gets quite fiery. The final song, 'Goze,' is an extensive exploration around a repetitive scale played by the bass.
While the recording is Sommer's date and his percussion is featured prominently in shaping the group's sound and songs, it's the woodwinds that really stand out. Whether on clarinet, bass clarinet or alto sax, Floridis veers quickly between playing inside and outside as his improvisations unfold both thoughtfully and with a bit of recklessness. The 'Melting Game' is a tremendously good listen that strikes an engaging balance between premeditated melodies and free playing.