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Friday, May 20, 2016

And many more ...

By Paul Acquaro

We conclude this week of duos with four recordings featuring the saxophone and a stringed instrument - in this case cello, bass, bass guitar and guitar, and then close out with two classic sax and drum duos. The problem is, it's hard to stop here. Just in the time of the creation of this week of reviews, a new recording from OutNow called Esoteric Duos hit the shelves, as did a Clean Feed release of Evan Parker and Alexander Hawkins ... and so many others. What to do. What to do.

Leila Bordreuil and Michael Foster - The Caustic Ballads (Relative Pitch, 2016) ****

Michael Foster (sax) and Leila Bordreuil (cello) are two young musicians from Brooklyn, whose musical partnership extends back to their meeting while studying music at Bard College.

On Caustic Ballads, the duo starts on the outside - way outside - and that old loaded term extended technique is the perfect descriptor to be applied here. This track, 'Born of its own Asphyxiation' sports a creepy title and is an engaging introduction to what has already been presented, by the cover art, as a somewhat sadomasochistic outing. Foster begins with air and fizzy dissonance while Bordreuil exploits the upper harmonics of the the track proceeds, all sorts of unusual sounds are used. The extra-instrumental materials and techniques are varied, especially on a track like 'Pleasure and Cruelty', which seems to incorporate the sounds of jackhammers and chain links.

There is an unusual intensity that builds during the first two tracks, and by the time 'Intimate Shrinkage of My Body and the Castration of My Life' comes together, the music reaches a climatic skronk. Fast forward a bit and track seven, "Wherever the Orgasm Discharges Its Internal Rottenness," is another peek of energy and sound. 

The energy on Caustic Ballads is focused and intense, and the vision is complete, as these two musicians already display a great amount of control over their instruments in creating otherworldly soundscapes. Like another recent release, Premature Burial's The Conjuring, and I'm sure many other, there seems to be a style emerging from the depths of Gowanus that is challenging, provocative and a bit disturbing!

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Keir Neuringer & Rafel Mazur - Diachronic Paths (Relative Pitch, 2016) ****

Another recording of a long standing duo, Philadelphia-based saxophonist Keir Neuringer and Kraków-based bassist Rafal Mazur deliver an extraordinary album with Diachronic Paths.

The recording is split into six tracks. Taking the album title literally, each a 'path' would seem to suggest a study, or a variation, of how language changes through time. Over the years that this duo has made music together, they have developed a kinetic approach that is as personal as it is inspiring. With the peeling sounds of circular breathing and the occasional honk of the alto saxophone along with the 16th note runs and choice chord voicing on the bass guitar, the sheer amount of musical ideas that pours forth is vital and fresh from the initial to the final path.

For example, the 'Third Path': the track begins with Neuringer playing an extended tone, it's imperfect in that it wavers and trills come and go, but all the while, Mazur is darting about, playing above and below the line set by Neuringer's single-minded note. This type of energetic matching of energy and ideas is a constant, they respond to each other, egg each other on, and make daring music together.

Diachronic Paths is an album that rewards repeated and attentive listening, and it a valuable documentation of a duo deep into a 17-year-old conversation. 

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Adam Pieronczyk & Miroslav Vitous - Wings (ForTune, 2015) ****

Adam Pieronczyk (tenor & soprano sax, zoucra) is a Kraków-based player with an impressive discography, and Miroslav Vitous (bass) hardly needs an introduction and is of course well known for his work with early Weather Report and more recent titles on ECM. Together, they create gentle, yet insistent improvisations on Wings.

The opening track, 'Enzo and the Blue Mermaid' starts with a bebop line as if written by Raymond Carver - there are hints of the blues, and suggestions of syncopation, but only just what is necessary. Vitous brings an undercurrent of tension to his melodic lines that Pieroncyzk reflects back and soars over. 

'Bach at Night' is a lively piece. Its framework falls away quickly as the duo participates in a trading of phrases. 'I'm Flying! I'm Flying' is introduced with a melodic hook that provides a reference point for the improvisation that follows. The restraint in which they start with gives a fiery track like 'Hanly' - which appears midway through the album - that much more power. Pieroncyzk switches to the zoucra for this one which from what I can tell sounds like a double reed instrument, and its unusual tonality is a nice change.

I know I'm coming to this recording a bit late, as it was released in December, however, Wings is a wonderful album that requires patient and dedicated listening. It doesn't jump out at first, rather it suggests a story that fills in over time.

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Tobias Brügge Matthew Grigg Duo - Vocabularies (Unknown Tongue, 2016) ****

Adopting the practice of dedicating songs - or tracks - to their inspirations, Tobias Brügge (saxophone) and Mathew Grigg (guitar/amplifier) deliver a wide-range of ideas on this release from Unknown Tongues. The improvisations styles range from lowercase passages to explosive forays. The flow of brittle intersections of sax and guitar to powerful scorched earth moments is both organic and born from a certain extrasensory perception.

Vocabularies begins with 'Peace & Fire (for Mats Gustafson)'. There is an interesting contrast between Brügge who uses short phrases to connect with Griggs' textural approach as the track begins. After a moment of quiet, they launch into an exploration of 'small' sounds, like the pops and clicks of the sax's mouthpiece and the pluck of strings on the other side of the guitar's bridge. They then slowly re-build momentum into longer, denser passages. 'Arch Duo (for Derek and Evan)' begins with much drama - Brügge's sax leaping from the speaker and Griggs' guitar particularly snarling, capturing perhaps the well know energies in the partnership of Evan Parker and Derek Bailey.

In distilling the creative spark of their influences, the duo of Brügge and Grigg develop their own challenging and rewarding music.

Matthew Grigg has been a contributor to the blog, check out some of his reviews here.

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John Butcher / Paal Nilssen-Love - Concentric (Clean Feed, 2016) ****

Clean Feed's re-release of Concentric is an unexpected and welcome re-addition to its catalog! First released in 2006, the sax and drum duo of John Butcher and Paal Nilssen-Love is an expansive collaborative exploration of music and sound that needs to be heard.

Butcher is a master of the saxophone - both musically and technically. His unfettered idiosyncratic approach mixes short rhythmic attacks, otherworldly sounds, and unusually constructed melodic passages into cohesive and often evocative statements. Love - an extraordinary percussionist and band leader - compliments the saxophonist with inventive and responsive percussion, matching and contrasting moods, tempos, and textures. Concentric is also a nice companion to Love's well-documented duo work with both Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee, as it showcases yet another unique and virtuosic approach to the duo.

Definitely worth discovering or rediscovering, Concentric is replete with fascinating sounds and textures - a riveting set of duos!

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Paul Dunmall & Tony Bianco – Autumn (FMR, 2014) ****½

So, to wrap up this series of reviews, I wanted to pick up on an excellent recording that has been eluding my 'pen' for a bit too long.

Paul Dunmall (sax) and Tony Bianco (drums) are another long-standing duo that operates more in the 'fire-music' mode of free jazz. Their partnership has produced several tributes to John Coltrane, modeled after the seminal drum and sax pairing of Rashied Ali and Coltrane.

Dunmall's playing is absolutely captivating, he has an intensity of sound that rises like a high tide, and as its waves break over you, its undertow will sweep you out into the rising ocean. Recorded at Delbury Hall, in Shropshire, England in November 2014, the first two tracks of Autumn are teasers, brimming with life, their condensed arcs set expectations for the half hour "Autumn", which again features Dunmall's effortless flow of ideas and notes, the absolutely air-tight connection between himself and Bianco.

If you haven't heard this one yet, do yourself a favor ...