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Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Sonic Experiments of Dirk Serries

Belgian experimental guitarist-multi-instrumentalist-producer-label manager Dirk Serries is one of the busiest and most productive European free improvisers. He insists on enriching and challenging the European schools of free improvisations with his unique insights and experiments with the drone and ambient music.

Kodian Trio – III (Trost, 2019) ****½

Kodian Trio is the working trio of British alto sax player Colin Webster and drummer Andrew Lisle with Serries on the electric guitar which has been touring extensively ever since their inception in 2015. The fifth album of the Kodian Trio and its third studio album was recorded in one intense live session at the White Noise studio in The Netherlands in March 2018 during a day-off on a European tour. Webster and Serries participated earlier this day in another recording session of the Dead Neanderthals in the same studio.

III finds the trio in top form: powerful and sharp, passionate and playful. From the first second of this session, this free-improvising trio explodes with an uncompromising and urgent interplay that highlights its total democratic, collective aesthetics but also the profound, emphatic spirit of this album, born out of the shared experiences of a busy tour schedule. Kodian Trio sounds this time more rooted in the European schools of brutal, free jazz than the free-form improvisations of its last studio album, II (Trost, 2017).

The Kodian Trio enjoys its tight, telepathic interplay on the fiery “I”; searches for a looser yet still fast and restless texture on “II”; rolling in full speed with Lisle’s fast-shifting polyrhythmic patterns but also enabling Serries to lead the trio in exploring a quiet and abstract drone; engage in an uplifting, joyful dialog on “IV” and concluding this impressive and very expressive statement with “V”, that intensifies the super-fast and telepathic interplay shown in this session.

Colin Webster & Dirk Serries - Light Industry (A New Wave of Jazz, 2020) ***½

Serries and Webster meet again at their favorite studio, Sunny Side in Anderlecht, Belgium, in September 2019 for an intimate duo where Serries plays only acoustic guitars. They already recorded a duo album before, Gargoyles (Raw Tonk, 2018) and Light Industry continue their restless search for new challenges, dynamics, and textures, but now in expanded improvisations that deepen their personal approaches, including unique, extended techniques and manipulations of their instruments.

The free-associative improvisation focuses on dense, fierce and nervous interactions without committing themselves to coherent patterns or narratives. Only “Blade” attempts a more contemplative approach but without giving up its thorny perspective. The self-taught Serries runs all over the strings, plucks and hammer the strings with irresistible, manic force while Webster keeps shouting and crying his provocative calls, but both Webster and Serries are always attentive and immediately responding to each other’s gestures.

Serries / Verhoeven / Webster - Praxis (A New Wave of Jazz, 2020) ****

Serries’ partner-pianist Martina Verhoeven joins the duo of Serries, who sticks here too to the acoustic guitars, and Webster in a studio session captured at the Sunny Side studio in December 2018. The Praxis of this trio is unhurried and sparse, quiet and contemplative. But the improvisations - with its twisted and manipulated sounds, extracted by an array of extended techniques - flow in total freedom and spacious atmosphere, sketching abstract textures that, intentionally, avoid dense, powerful climaxes.

Serries, Verhoeven and Webster sound as investigating methodically yet in a highly intimate manner distinct aspects of the timbral horizons of their instruments, apart and together. Throughout the seven short pieces, each breath, touch, pluck, sigh, thump, blow, push, creak or sputter receives the utmost importance., with great focus on detail and control. “Fissure” brings that strategy to its most impressive result as it suggests hypnotic drone colored in exotic Eastern undercurrents.

YODOK III – Verkstedhallen (Self-Produced, 2020) ****

YODOK III is Serries trio with Norwegian drummer Tomas Järmyr, known for his work with Norwegian art-rock trio Motorpsycho and his duo with Serries, The Void of Expansion, and amplified tuba and flugabone player Kristoffer Lo, known for his collaborations with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and the art-pop band Highasakite. This trio's expertise is fully improvised yet refined and evocative ritualist drones, but Verkstedhallen is an unusual project in the trio discography, and not only by being one of the first ones to be released independently by the trio on its new Bandcamp page.

Verkstedhallen is a live soundtrack of YODOK III working with the dance and multimedia project As We Fade Out Into The Sweet Stream Of Oblivion with Norwegian improvising dance artists Mari Flønes, Ingeborg Dugstad Sanders and Live Strugstad, light designer Ingrid Skanke Høsøien, video scenographer Pekka Stokke and sound engineer Håkon Dalen, described as "performance art that highlights the ever-growing need, in this superficial landscape of social media and fast-food entertainment, for reflection, soul searching and pure beauty". This project was Performed at Verkstedhallen, Trondheim, on May 7th till 9th, 2018 (the last two performances were the official premiere at the Trondheim JazzFest), and features four versions of the live soundtrack, almost four hours of music.

YODOK III's enigmatic drones are still highly evocative and hypnotic and all four versions sound totally different but with similar organic courses, divided into two parts, quiet one and more raging one. The first two versions sound more reserved, melancholic and even quieter than the usual ones of this trio but, as expected, both conclude with powerful, psychedelic-cathartic codas. In the following versions, YODOK III dares more and more, clearly in its natural zone. YODOK III still suggests a unique sonic mass where the atmospheric guitar lines of Serries are amplified and extended by the tuba of Lo and charged by the resonant cymbals of Järmyr, and vice versa, with impressive attention to detail and drama, until it all explodes in the magnificent codas. Listening to the four versions in one go can do wonders to your fatigued brain and body. It may tranquilize, absorb all your senses and even exorcise some evil thoughts and moods.

Rodrigo Amado / Dirk Serries – JazzBlazzt (Raw Tonk, 2019) ***½

The first-ever meeting between Portugues sax hero Rodrigo Amado, who focuses here on the tenor saxophone, and Serries, who alternates between electric and acoustic guitars, was captured live in concert at JazzBlazzt, Neeritter, The Netherlands, on August 2018, and released on Webster's label as a limited-edition of 100 cassettes plus download option.

The two extended sets offer dense but conversational, free improvisations that spread over a rich spectrum of moods and dynamics. Amado and Serries move instantly from a tough and restless strategy to a gentle, compassionate and sometimes even emotional and warm dynamics, alternate with contemplative, sparse dialogs and later engage in another, urgent and uncompromising duel. There are times when both Amado and Serries take different courses but soon it turns out that these are close, parallel ones, and they never lost each other. It is also clear that the free improvised lexicon of Amado is inspired and relies on the jazz legacy and often opts for soulful and lyrical veins while Serries brings ideas from his ambient and sound-based experiments and likes more thorny, distorted and noisy sounds. But throughout the 55 minutes of Jazzblazzt these sonic universes explore mutual, profound improvising spirit and soon find fertile common ground.

Dirk Serries / Kris Vanderstraeten / Martina Verhoeven – Impetus (A New Wave of Jazz, 2019) ***½

Serries focuses here on acoustic guitars and is joined by fellow-Belgian percussionist Kris Vanderstraeten and partner-pianist Martina Verhoeven. Their free-improvised session was recorded at the Sunny Side studio in December 2018. There is a clear agreement on the searching, investigative approach of this session and its focus on exploring delicate, fast shifting dynamics, but also about establishing strong sonic affinity.

Vanderstraeten, who fell under the spell of free music after witnessing a concert by the legendary trio of Peter Brötzmann, Fred Van Hove and Han Bennink, plays on a self-built drum kit with an endless array of objects, toys, and kitchen utensils. His sonic universe charges this improvised, free-associative and highly intimate textures with senses of danger, risk-taking and sometimes with pure random noises. His wise but modest contributions turn this meeting to a one that focuses on the music of chance. The title-piece captures best the enigmatic-exotic spirit of this trio, spiced with strong cinematic qualities.

SETT - First and Second (New Wave of Jazz, 2020) ****

SETT is a an acoustic strings quartet, featuring British most prolific double bass player John Edwards, Serries and Daniel Thompson on acoustic guitars and violist Benedict Taylor, recorded at the Dave Hunt studio, London in November 2019. SETT does not attempt to offer free-improvised chamber music, but to push the sonic envelope of these fearless improvisers.

First and Second offers two extended improvisations, rooted in the legacy of the British legacy of uncompromising, non-idiomatic free music. The interplay on “First SETT” is super intense, physical and often tough and confrontational, as if all are in a kind of a battle of bows (and extended bowing techniques), with few segments where the interplay opens for more sparse interactions. Clearly, SETT resists any rhythmic or melodic patterns but creating a fertile, provocative tension that keeps feeding the challenging music. “Second SETT” adopts a completely different strategy. SETT builds the tension slowly in an introspective and subtle manner and as the interplay is more emphatic and open, with brief sparks of playfulness. Patiently, SETT solidifies the nuanced texture but also emphasizes that this first recording session of SETT is only the beginning of a promising future.

Serries / Taylor + Verhoeven - An Evening At JazzBlazzt (A New Wave of Jazz, 2020) ***½

Serries, still on acoustic guitar, meets again violist Taylor, and pianist Verhoeven (she plays only on the second set) in a live performance at the free music haven JazzBlazzt in June 2019. Serries and Taylor already recorded a debut duo album, the studio Puncture Cycle (A New Wave of Jazz, 2019), and, obviously, Verhoeven is a close collaborator of Serries.

The live setting offers a more raw, immediate and turbulent encounter of Serries and Taylor. Both sound as if they are jumping from one sonic collision to another, maneuvering and teasing each other in a tense and muscular game. The addition of Verhoeven, with her inside-the-piano extended techniques, changes the dynamics into more thoughtful and conversational ones, sometimes as of an experimental, chamber string trio. The patient but still intense modes of interactions gently explore and stimulate timbral contrasts, fascinating palette of colors and challenging dynamics.

Tonus – Segment Tones (A New Wave of Jazz, 2019) ***½

Tonus is the trio of Serries, who plays here the accordion and soprano melodica, his partner Martina Verhoeven, who plays the concertina and cello, and comrade from the Kodian Trio (and many other sonic adventures) Colin Webster on the clarinet and alto sax. Segment Tones, recorded at the Sunny Side studio in November 2018, is totally different in spirit and atmosphere from other recent releases as it focuses on the music of statis as if time has frozen and reveals a much deeper dimension that only music can shed light on. The absence of urgency or rhythmical basis and the investigative approach to the senses of time and space do not affect the peaceful warmth and the fragile poetic lyricism of the three extended drone pieces, each one with its distinct subtle dramatic texture.

Guy Peters, who wrote the liner notes, compares this session to a “way of turning the manic speed of today into something like a refuge, something that has a purity that is too often absent in our daily fights with chaos and fragmentation”. You find such minimalist veins in the work of the duo The International Nothing and other experimental outfits that draw their inspiration in minimalist electronica. Or as Peters goes: “Just as the clattering of rambunctious free jazz can be regarded as a tumultuous answer to political provocations and general madness, the minimalist means of this album are as determined in their refusal to comply”.

Asmus Tietchens & Dirk Serries – Air (A New Wave of Jazz, 2019) ****

On Air, Serries abandons again his guitars for the accordion, melodica, clarinet, harmonica, and concertina. Serries recorded source materials on these instruments in October 2018. These materials were later treated - manipulated, deconstructed, re-structured and looped and layered in few constellations by German experimental musician Asmus Tietchens, who specializes in “irregular patterns of sonic abstractions that are suspended in gray drones”, and who had collaborated before with Serries in a similar process while the latter used the ambient moniker Vidna Obmana in the nineties.

Each of the treatments relates to a distinct instrument but all succeed to offer an intimate and evocative-mysterious atmosphere – literally - of a spiritual trance ritual from a faraway culture with its very own native, exotic instruments. “Air Melodica” and “Air Harmonika” even deepen this vein and reduces the warm sounds of the melodica and harmonica into a meditative, almost silent drone based on chilly, minimalist industrial sounds. “Air Concertina” continues this patient, subtle and spacy soundscape and even forms a basic melodic theme, later developed into a choral, song-like form on the last “Air Klarinette “. Only “Air Akkordeon” sticks to the familiar sound of the instrument but sculpts these sounds into a light and abstract, wave-like drone.


Richard said...

The Kodian album was one of my favorites from last year. I also like Yodok, but I get the feeling they don't seem to know how numbering works. Yodok III is a trio but YODOK IIII is a duo. If Yodok IIII is the 4th album by the duo, it should be Yodok II-IIII. And why is the embedded video Yodok IX and of course IIII should be IV. Sorry, I'm a math nerd. Stuff like this bothers me. Yes, I've been inside too long. Also, Yodk is really good.