There is nothing as strange as one musician on his own, struggling with his instrument in empty space, trying to shout weep sing jubilate rage with personal feelings by wrestling new tones and sounds out of this piece of concrete matter, playing alone with aesthetics and norms, hopefully trying to get the thinking stilled, letting the sounds produce themselves as if you are the instrument, or as if the instrument is you. And as in other solo recordings, you are on your own, naked and vulnerable with absolutely nowhere to hide. But that also makes it incredibly fascinating to listen to, if well played.
The first solo clarinet album I ever heard was Evan Ziporyn's "This Is Not A Clarinet", a mesmerizing album vaccilating between classical avant-garde and more free forms. Of course the following albums are also easy to recommend, starting with the great John Carter.
John Carter - A Suite Of Early American Folk Pieces For Solo Clarinet (Moers, 1979)
Louis Sclavis - Clarinettes (IDA, 1985)
Evan Ziporyn - This Is Not A Clarinet (Cantaloupe, 2001)
Rudi Mahall - Solo (Psi, 2006)
Ned Rothenberg - Intervals (Animul, 2001) The Lumina Recordings (Tzadik, 2006)
Jason Stein - In Exchange For A Process (Leo, 2009)
In the classical genre, you also have Caroline Hartig's "Chalumeau", Romualdo Barone's "Tarantella for Solo Clarinet", Eward Brunner's "Music For Solo Clarinet".
This brings us to some new albums in the solo clarinet genre.
Joachim Badenhorst - The Jungle, He Told Me .. (Smeraldina-Rima, 2012) ****
Cookbook" and "Klippe", on Joe Hertenstein's "Polylemma", with his own band "Taro", with Baloni on "Fremdenzimmer", with "Rawfishbones", with Han Bennink in "Parken", and on Tony Malaby's "Novela". No doubt that he is one of the coming men, as a musician and as an artist. He was voted clarinettist of the year 2011 by "El Intruso"'s fourth annual critics poll, to which your humble servant contributed.
About the album then. Badenhorst has none of Ziporyn's abstract precision or Carter's dramatic development, or Rothenberg's incredible presence; his starting position is more intimate, with no objective to impress. The first track is a good example, beginning with a soft moaning sound, full of warmth, free form and the typical repetitiveness of long circular breathing bouts, with ever changing colorings and shadings.
The second track is a quiet meditation on bass clarinet, with floating phrases, offering something that is happening close to you, and almost the opposite of all his solo clarinet colleagues who try to occupy space, Badenhorst takes his corner in the space, and you have to come close to him, as he draws you in, instead of trying to reach every corner of the environment.
"Tenor" is built around a rhythmic circular breathing pace, and is a little more expansive, "Djilatendo" gives the eery impression that he is slowing down a recorded tape while playing unusual glissandos. "Ek Stamel Ek Sterwe" (I stutter, I die) is rawer, using the full range from low roars to sustained high notes.
Badenhorst's technique is strong and his performance has the perfect balance between knowing his limitations while at the same time not overplaying his obvious technical abilities : the music and his musical ideas keep the main focus, and that's how we like it.
You can buy the album from instantjazz.com.
Ned Rothenberg - World Of Odd Harmonics (Tzadik 2012) ****½
What Rotehnberg does, is pretty exceptional for a solo instrument. His mastery is almost perfect, his tone, his multiphonics, his circular breathing, and indeed his occupation of space, the variations, the hypnotism and the odd harmonics, the way he keeps the listener captivated - at least this one - is unique.
The central piece is "Depth Perception" on bass clarinet, which creates at times the most incredible rhythmic dynamics, full of angered rough moments alternated with delicate sensitivity, control and pure blow-out phrases - screaming! - while keeping the pulse going. It is at moments hard to believe that this is just one single musician playing one single instrument, but it is. But it is a real "dialogue intérieur" with both conflicting and harmonising elements, bizarre and astonishing, frightening and soothing, and I'm not sure whether the whole thirteen minutes are played in circular breathing mode, but it is in any case a technical and physical and emotional tour-de-force.
"Odd Not Odd" is again an amazing little gem in which you can hear Philip Glass, Johann Sebastian Bach and Evan Parker simultaneously, ending in a bizarre, odd-metered almost synth-like sound.
Because of his choice for circular breathing and this multiphonic dialogue, most of the compositions/improvisations keep circling around the same tonal center, resulting in a mesmerizing, yet often abstract listen.
Despite the fact that both albums are only solo clarinet performances, the approaches are totally different. Both are easy to recommend, also to non-clarinettists. Strangely enough, both youtube videos give almost the opposite impression as the albums, with Badenhorst being more expansive, and Rothenberg more intimate.