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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Barcode Quartet - Live in Brasil (Grazer Etikett, 2016) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Barcode Quartet is a free-improvising quartet that features musicians with no or little background in jazz. Barcode Quartet matches three Graz-based Austrians – pianist Elisabeth Harnik (known from the DEK Trio with Ken Vandermark and her collaborations with another Chicagoan sax player Dave Rempis, and French double bass master Joëlle Léandre), vocalist Annette Giesriegl, and drummer and electronics musician Josef Klammer with London-based violinist Alison Blunt, who collaborates with Harnik in the interdisciplinary project “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose …”- Hommage á Gertrude Stein, and is a frequent collaborator with drummer Mark Sanders. Klammer suggested the title for this border-crossing quartet, thinking of it as an ironic protest by a group that defies any attempt to label or codify its music.

Blunt is a classically trained violinist who played in chamber ensemble and orchestras who took up improvisation following repeated wrist injuries. Harnik studied classical piano and composition and even performed as a jazz singer before shifting her focus to free improvisation. Giesriegl also studied jazz singing but focuses on free-improvisation and is known for her overtone and throat singing and Indian vocalizing techniques. Klammer is busy working with sound art, radio plays, and theater projects, expanding his drum drum-set with electronics and sound samples.

Live in Brasil is the sophomore album of the quartet, following You’re It (Slam Productions, 2012), which was also recorded live on August 2015 at Jazz na Fábrica Festival in São Paulo and the following day at Quintavant-Audio Rebel in Rio de Janeiro, distributed only in digital format. The live setting and the extended, improvised format enable the four musicians to operate freely on the spectrum between the spontaneous and intuitive, composition in real-time and what slowly blossoms as nuanced compositions. All while experimenting and incorporating the highly singular herstories/histories of the four musicians.

The opening, 35-minutes “Tranquilo”, present the quartet in its most eccentric, inventive and imaginative mode while maintaining a balanced and emphatic interplay. Harnik's percussive motifs on the piano keys and strings extend the subtle, colorful percussive work of Klammer, both cement the erratic atmosphere of this piece. Giesriegl's wordless vocalizations and suggestive phrasing offer a dadaist narrative, full of sudden dramatic twists, intensified and sometimes even contrasted by Blunt's playing. Somehow all the chaotic, dense playing is channeled into a powerful momentum, gravitating towards an ecstatic conclusion. The following “Gig Rec” begins with the fractured, rhythmic run of Klammer, soon abstracted with even faster rhythmic gestures of Giesriegl, Harnik and Blunt, all employ extended vocal, bowing and hammering techniques. But later this piece adopts a contemplative and abstract mode that highlight the evocative and passionate delivery of Giesriegl and the inventive, free-spirited playing of Blunt. The São Paulo performance concludes with a short, playful encore, “Our Toys”.

The last piece, “Audio Rebel’s Dog” deepens the wild, chaotic vein of opening piece. The distinct eccentric and unstable nature of this improvisation still makes some sense. Obviously, mysterious, unorthodox and non-linear kind of sense, but somehow all the weird-sounding ideas fit this unique puzzle. The violin of Blunt that quotes folk motifs, the operatic-theatrical delivery of Giesriegl and the percussive sparks and the sprints on the piano keys of Harnik and the sparse drumming and strange noises of Klammer all connect, collide, disperse and connect again, immediately and organically. All together suggest a rich, multifaceted sonic picture that never exhausts you from deciphering its myriad elements.