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Monday, November 2, 2020

Reeds & Skins

 By Stef Gijssels

There is little we can do to give credit to all the creative music that is being released these days, as if the lock-down has given musicians and labels the opportunity to dig up existing performances, to prepare a good production and to release them, often digital only. 

There is little chance for us to review everything, so here's a list of recent sax and drum duo performances, with sometimes some and sometimes little information. It is as if the sax-drums duets have been piling up over the year without review, despite the fact that the format is quite frequently reviewed over the past years. 

We can highlight the existence of these albums to the fans, in the hope that they will find something of their choice. A "reeds & skin" menu if you like, but up to the reader to taste them herself/himself. It's a little much, I know. Enjoy! 

John Butcher & Riccardo La Foresta ‎– Live In Italy (Weight Of Wax, 2020)

You're all familiar with John Butcher, of course, but probably less so with Italian percussionist Riccardo La Foresta. He is the inventor of and at least sole performer on the "drummophone", "a wind instrument made from a drum that generates resonances on the skin and offers new tonal possibilities and preparations of the vibrating surface. In live performance the sound emancipation of the mechanical parts of the instrument brings a new vitality of the traditional gesture and leads to unpredictable sound responses: gestures conducted to the maximum and minimum auditory consequences on the surrogate of a drum setup", is what I read on the drummer's website. 

Because of the unique resonance and stretched tones of the percussion instrument, it finds a kind of natural ally in the British saxophonist, whose interest in exploring timbre and resonance are known as his artistic trademark. When Butcher was invited by La Foresta to perform together, he accepted for two concerts in Italy. 

Without a doubt the result is unique, to a large extent by the use of the drummophone but not limited to it: the instrument and the performance by La Foresta help to create a great context for Butcher to expand his own sound. The three tracks - each around 13 minutes long - contain within themselves a whole suite-like level of variety, with little blocks of interaction moving into the next development, ranging from very quiet to voluminous moments, when the drummophone could even be mistaken for a bowed bass, an organ or a wind instrument. 

Not to be missed. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Steve Noble & Yoni Silver ‎– Lost (Self, 2020)

A slow and dark sonic exploration by Steve Noble on drums, percussion, cymbals and gongs, and Yoni Silver on bass clarinet. They demonstrate excellent listening skills and tight musical coherence. It is quiet, subdued, intimate but gradually becoming more expansive (and ending in animal growls). Abstract in concept, very concrete and physical in its in-the-moment delivery. 

The performance was recorded in 2015 at Hundred Years Gallery in London, after a long period of both musicians having shared the stage together. The seamless interplay testifies to this. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Mia Dyberg & Rudi Fischerlehner - Pause (Farai, 2020)

One of my favourite albums on this long list are Mia Dyberg from Denmark on alto and Rudi Fischerlehner from Austria on drums. We reviewed one of their previous albums "Berg", but I prefer this one. It is fresh, unassuming and aspirational at the same time, intimate and inventive. They continue to use the same concept as before, taking a natural environment as inspiration, in this case a park in the middle of Berlin Kreuzberg. The music is refined, gentle and with strong character. 

A piece of candy in a dark world. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Evan Parker & Zlatko Kaucic - Arkosberg (Klopotec, 2020)

In fact the album has two CDs, one a duet between Parker and Kaucic, while on the second both are joined by Massimo de Mattia on flutes and Bostian Simon on saxophone, but that does not concern us here: we focus on the first of the two disks. Evan Parker performs on soprano and tenor, and Kaucic plays zither, percussion, electric zither and objects. 

Parker is inspired, as is Kaucic, with the former resorting often to his familiar circular breathing bouts, leading to mesmerising moments of high intensity, and the latter using his full array of inventive drumming techniques (such as combining a drum roll with bowed tones). There are moments of silence and calm waiting for the music to develop. The pace is measured, without the urgency of some other sax-drums duets reviewed in this list, and this benefits both the quality of the performance, its variation and interplay. Two masters at work who do not have anything to prove anymore, just enjoying their music in a very fresh and smart performance. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Catherine Sikora & Ethan Winogrand - Things To Do In Paris (2020)

Sikora enjoys the freedom of small ensembles as her discography testifies (duets with Ross Hammond on guitar, Matteo Liberatore on electric guitar, with Brian Chase on drums, with Christopher Culpo on piano, with Eric Mingus on bass), several of which have been reviewed on our blog before. 

In 2014, when having residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris (Sikora is Irish), she heard that drummer Ethan Winogrand was also in town, and they managed to get a performance organise on very short notice. This album is the result of that meeting. 

The performance is really excellent. Sikora's lyrical, melodic flights which mix sensitivity with power are perfectly balanced by Winogrand's listening and response skills. Even if she leads the dance, he does much more than just support her efforts. He forces her several times to change course, adding variation to the idea she developed. At times they both leave each other some solo space, respectfully and it works, in the sense that the intimacy of the performance is even more accentuated by it. 

The album is a real treat of creativity and inventive interaction. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Kyle Bruckmann & Tim Daisy - Loop Language (Relay Digital, 2020)

At least Kyle Bruckmann and Tim Daisy manage to expand the reed-drums duet into something more and into something new. True, Kyle Bruckmann plays oboe/English horn and electronics, and Tim Daisy uses a whole array of percussion from the regular drum kit over marimba to glass bowels. 

The electronics and the glass bowels add an element to the more traditional duo format, with jazzy themes, strange lyricism, unpredictable atmospheres, eery rhythms, unexpected changes, weird interactions, pushing boundaries. Some are even outright too much, such as "Muck (Tim)" - but you don't win if you don't take chances - yet the last track on English horn is surprisingly gentle, melodious and lyrical. Despite the wealth of variation and inventive ideas, the core sound remains coherent from the first till the last notes. 

Two great musicians at work. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Andrew Cheetham & Alan Wilkinson - The Vortex Of Past Time (NWO, 2020) 

The duo is Andrew Cheetham on drums and percussion, and Alan Wilkinson on alto & baritone saxophones, bass clarinet and voice. 

The performance was recorded and mixed at Queen's Ark Audio, Manchester by Karl Sveinsson on 25th April 2017. The music is at the same time warm-toned, energetic, dynamic, fierce and raw. Free improv as we like it. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

John Dikeman & Aleksandar Skoric - Mo Faya! (Doek, 2020)

The duo are John Dikeman on saxes and Aleksandar Skoric on drums. The album consists of four tracks. The first one was recorded in January of this year at the Oude Kerk Charlois in Rotterdam, the three other tracks from a concert at a Cultural Center in Amsterdam the next day. 

The half hour Rotterdam track resonates in the church, as if we are listening from a distance. It is a no holds barred high energy work-out. The Amsterdam tracks have a somewhat closer feeling, even if the sound is still more distant than you would expect. The music stays fierce and high energy throughout. The art work gives you a good idea of the music. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Greg Osby & Florian Arbenz - Reflections Of The Eternal Line (Inner Circle Music, 2020) 

We have a different approach by modern jazz artists Greg Osby on saxes and Swiss percussionist Florian Arbenz on drums. The music is further inspired by a third party, the painter Stephan Spicher in whose workshop the performance took place. In contrast to some of the other albums in this list, there is more variation between the different tracks. 

Arbenz demonstrates a lot of his skills, by creating complex polyrhythms that drive the improvisations forward as on 'Wooden Lines', the first track. We have alternating leadership with Osby creating different and calmer atmosphere as on 'Chant', the second track, or on 'The Passage Of Light'. Most other pieces are mid- to uptempo, full of rhythmic joy. Arbenz may be trying to demonstrate his technical skills a little bit too much for my taste (it's about the music, not the instrument). 

The sound quality is excellent as is the musicianship. A Highly enjoyable album. 

Ilia Belorukov & Peter Ototsky - Conspects (Self, 2020)

We're back into a more exploratory context with Ilia Belorukov on alto and Peter Ototsky on drums. The former is a Russian iconoclast, relentless creator of new sounds from noise over electroacoustics to free improvisation. His compatriot is possibly less known, even if he has already a few dozen albums in his name. 

The first two tracks are recorded live on April 15, 2018 at the Museum of Enterpreneurs in Moscow, the last three tracks a year later at the same venue without an audience. 

The playing is direct, varied, fully acoustic, varying between violent - "Contact" - and sensitive moments - "Comfort". "Contrast" starts as a barely audible soundscape of tiny sustained notes built around the silence of the space, while "Conflict" drives us into more avant-garde territory full of shifting dynamic explorations. The album ends with "Contract", and bookends the album with another ferocious exhchange. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Batchko & DeMerritt 69-70 (Self, 2020)

This is a twenty-minute one-track performance by Chicago-based drummer Jason Batchko and L.A. based saxophonist Matt DeMerritt. Their interaction is unrelenting, ferocious, fierce and full of energy. 

There is a second track planned. Why it is not already available is a mystery. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Keshavan Maslak & Charles Moffett - Blaster Master (Mutant Sound, 2020)

The next duet is between Kenneth Keshavan Maslak on sax and Charles Moffett on drums. The former is possibly better known as Kenny Millions. The music is violent - agressive even. The soloing is usually very bluesy, using primarily pentatonic scales with little variation. The sound quality is not so good either. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Patrick Shiroishi & Dylan Fujioka - Neba Neba (Orb Tapes, 2020)

The duo are Patrick Shiroishi on alto and baritone saxophone, and Dylan Fujioka on drums and percussion. Both musicians have performed appeared together in several ensembles over the past years, going back to Chelsea Wolfe’s 2013 album “Pain Is Beauty”, and as recently as 2019’s “Borasisi,” where they played alongside percussionist Alex Cline and saxophonist Vinny Golia. 

They bring us three improvisations, two very long ones clocking 25 and 29 minutes respectively, separated by a shorter three minute piece. 

The performance is amazingly lyrical and offers a nice juxtaposition between slow soloing and robust drumming. Fujioka often takes a lead or solo voice, playing in a very creative and entertaining way. Shiroishi alternates well between his high singing alto, often resulting in deeply felt cries of agony, whereas the baritone interestingly offers more rhythmic and melodic forms. 

The sound quality is excellent, giving you the impression to be part of a personal concert in your room. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Jason Stein & Adam Shead - Synaptic Atlas (Ears & Eyes, 2020)

The duo between Jason Stein on bass clarinet and Adam Shead is equally enjoyable. They bring us eight tracks of warm and pleasant interaction. There is no power or violence to be noticed, energy surely, intensity too, yet the interaction remains warm, creative and exploratory. Both musicians demonstrate their artistry in a very natural, almost organic flow, navigating through moments of wonder and suprise to instances of supressed anger, sometimes in a kind of parlando style or one of solid determination. Stein's skills on the bass clarinet are exceptional, but the creative techniques and approaches of fellow Chicagoan Shead are a new force to be reckoned with. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Andreas Schulz & Paul Engelmann - Broome (OMP, 2020)

Andreas Schulz is the composer and drummer, Paul Engelmann plays alto sax. To be sure about the hierarchy, it is "Andreas Schulz featuring Paul Engelmann". 

There are to versions of the album released this year, one is called "Jazz Edit", the other one "Saxophone Edit", with three more albums to follow in the series: Electro Edit, Piano Edit, and Deluxe Edit. The series is inspired by Los Angeles and New York where the composer resided for a few years. 

The compositions/improvisations are smart, but also friendly and melodic. Even if inspired by the music of Coltrane and Coleman, the atmosphere is a little too welcoming and gentle. The playing is good, but you would expect more artistic courage and vision from musicians with their skills. 

Ben Goldberg & Kenny Wollesen - Music For An Avant-Garde Massage Parlour (BAG Rec, 2020)

Ben Goldberg plays clarinet, Kenny Wollesen percussion, including vibraphone, slide vibes, diddley bow and bells.

Goldberg already released zillions of improvisations this year, as part of his corona lockdown blues, OK to this date he has reached number 176 of his Plague Diary, and it is still continuing (but we hope he stops soon, not because of his music, but because of the pandemic). 

This album is a little outlier in this series, primarily because of Wollesen's melodic percussion. He provides a harmonic background to Goldberg's clarinet in a way that a drum kit cannot do. They also add some electronics, resulting in unexpected textures. 

Both add another 21 tracks to this years productivity. Not bad. Neither is the music. It is inventive, unusual and gentle. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Peter Brötzmann & Szilveszter Miklos - At Mu (Adyton, 2020)

I am not too sure what to think about this album. It's a duet between Peter Brötzmann and Hungarian drummer Szilveszter Miklós. The sound quality of the performance is not excellent. At the beginning of the performance Brötzmann clearly takes the lead, and Miklós is possibly too respectful, taking too much of a waiting attitude, and it's only when the drummer gets his solo moment that he dares show his skills and ideas. Brötzmann is good although at times maybe flying too much on automatic pilot. He plays tenor, clarinet and tárogató. 

Recorded live at 12. Újbuda Jazz Festival at MU Theatre, Budapest on 2 September 2016. The vinyl album is available in 300 copies. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Steve Baczkowski & Ravi Padmanabha - Open Door (Self, 2020)

The opening tones of "Open Door" immediately tell you that this is a different kind of sax-drums duet. It starts with Baczkowski on didgeridoo and Padmanabha on sarangi, an Indian fiddle, inviting the listener to another musical universe. Once you're through the first track, all hell breaks loose with a fierce sax-drums duet in the expected sense: violent howls and ferocious percussion push each other to the limit while constructing something meaninful together. On the third track, we are again somewhere else: with flutes and tabla playing a beautiful, slow, meditative piece, only to be pulled out of our reverie with the next track, which is again raw, direct, struggling, harsh. This alternation keeps happening track after track. It is the exact opposite of what you could call a single vision or a single musical voice, but of course that's the point somehow, you get transposed to a completely different place with each track. 

It think this is their sixth duo collaboration and you can tell that they sense each other perfectly, regardless of the instruments used or the musical style employed. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Bertrand Denzler & Antonin Gerbal - Sbatax (Umlaut Records, 2020)

One track, two musicians going a for full thirty-eight minute long physical work-out. French drummer Antonin Gerbal is clearly the lead voice in the duet, setting the scene, determining the energy. His fellow countryman keeps up the pace on his tenor, not an easy task but he increasingly gets into it, once he gets to more rhythmic phrases. Gerbal is just relentless, going on and on, going so far as even making the audience shriek and shout. Denzler has no other option than to turn his sax into another percussive machine, churning out the same middle register phrases again and again, trance-like, with the physicality of the effort getting more importance than the variation and exploration. This is high energy power music. And you will be exhausted when it ends. 

Patchwork - Patchwork (New Focus Recordings, 2020)

Patchwork is an unusual album. The performers are Noa Even on saxophones and Stephen Klunk on drums. The music was written for them by Erin Rogers, Eric Wubbels, Dan Tramte, Osnat Netzer and Hong-Da Chin, all five avant-garde composers who are new to me (apologies!), but who get some more exposure thanks to Patchwork. The liner notes mention that "Influenced by the worlds of free jazz, metal, progressive rock, and the avant garde, Patchwork's commitment to stylistic hybridity is matched by their fidelity to the score". Listening to the music, one can understand the reference to many styles (but metal?). The playing is refined, structured, with very strong dedicated parts for the sax and drums separately and jointly. Even if there is improvisation, the precision of the interplay gives away its composed foundation. The quality of the performance is stellar, the music itself is of varying nature, at times playful, at times complex, at other times quite unexpected. Especially the last piece, "Gr!nd" by Chinese composer Hong-Da Chin is a fascinating composition, more creative and more emotionally gripping.  

Like most composed music, it lacks the deep emotional resonance of free jazz and free improvisation, as well as a too balanced structural leveling out of the excesses of free music. On the other hand, it is also a refreshing exercise in listening to composed avant-garde music. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp.

Ha! In the end it was a little more than just listing the albums. Check them out. I did not rate them with stars, because I should have listened much more and with more depth to each album to do it credit.