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Saturday, May 13, 2023

King Übü Örchestrü 2021 – Roi (FMR, 2023)

By Stuart Broomer

King Übü Örchestrü 2021 (the year added to the name to distinguish the group’s most recent incarnation) is a large-form improvising orchestra that first gathered in 1984. While the group had a personnel list of 27 members for a 1989 recording, this recent version has only 11, but it retains the group’s interest in constant transformation of sound.

The instrumental emphasis in King Übü2021’s line-up is brass and strings. The brass component consists of cornetist Mark Charig, trumpeter Axel Dörner, trombonist Matthias Muche and tubaist Melvyn Poore. The strings include bassist Hans Schneider, guitarist Erhard Hirt, Violinist Phillipp Wachsmann, and cellist Alfred Zimmerlin, with Hirt and Wachsmann also contributing electronics. The group is completed by percussionist Paul Lytton, sopranino saxophonist Stefan Keune and singer Phil Minton, who also appeared as a guest on their previous recording from 2003.

The group rarely employs its full resources, even in this scale, emphasizing a tradition of close listening and frequently operating at low volume, sometimes playing so sparsely and rapidly that something resembling a line might pass through several musicians, each contributing a couple of notes. True to its chamber orchestra make-up, Übü emphasizes a broad cross-section of pitches, from tuba and trombone at one end to sopranino saxophone, covering a spectrum not matched by a traditional big band.

Its radical character is apparent in the opening moments’ scatter-shot sounds, from squeaks to rumbling tuba, Minton already declaring his unique presence with garbled squawks, sighs and shouts. A continuum of high-pitched metallic rattling from Lytton provides a field for pointillist brass, there’s a momentary duet of Lytton and Minton, then a cheerful chaos of brass and strings, no part continuous, but everything a short blast, a sudden cello somehow surmounting a trumpet, a wave of shifting sounds that escape identification. Is that a trumpet or the vocal wail of Minton, the lapsed trumpeter? Each musician is a master of the unidentifiable intrusion, gone before identification might be rendered. There are also sustained individual moments, like a lyrical high brass solo (likely Charig) then later an extended investigation of strange interior high brass timbres and polyphonic whistling (likely Dörner). At times there are sustained ensemble passages of varied subdued sounds, the collocations too interesting for the kind of scrutiny that leads to identification; instead, one can only manage excited attention. Heard repeatedly, some parts sound utterly different, confusingly fresh. There are occasional rapid outbursts of extreme highs (trumpet, violin, sopranino saxophone, electronics), suggesting that a group of beings operating at a higher frequency are suddenly converging.

The Second Set begins with a wondrous and sustained gong sound that somehow convinces Minton to sound like he has a mouthful of cats (yes, it seems impossible). It would take dozens of listenings and thousands of words to delineate the stream of events and dilations of inference in this music. Suffice to say that its wondrous and the longer second set is even richer in variety than the first, including the subtle electronic contributions of Hirt and Wachsmann and Minton’s on-going evidence that he remains a singular presence in the world of vocal improvisation, willing to imagine and sing what no one has imagined or sung before.

Evading description or encapsulation, this is a wonder-filled event that invites only listening and sharing.


Martin Schray said...

I can only agree to the 5 stars, Stuart. Minton sounds like he has "a mouthful of cats", I like that in particular. Very well written review.

Nick said...

Great review Stuart, this is on my short list too. And great liner notes from Martin!

Stuart Broomer said...

Thanks, Martin, Thanks, Nick!