Click here to [close]

Friday, September 22, 2023

Frode Gjerstad with Matthew Shipp - We Speak (Relative Pitch, 2023)

By Paul Acquaro

I've been thinking about extended technique and the saxophone a bit lately, and I am starting to come up with a taxonomy, a classification scheme, if you will, of the various sound possibilities and their application. For example, there are the extended tonal systems that musicians like Evan Parker and John Butcher have developed and extended, rich panoplies of sounds that when you hear it, you can immediately identify the source. This extends, in my nascent system, to titans like Peter Brötzmann whose blasts belong to his own unique vocabulary. Then, there is the over-blowing that add emphasis and takes the listener out to the unknown, like, for example in Tony Malaby's playing.

Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad lies somewhere in the middle. His musical language is built from a generous array of extended tones, smeary squeaks, slathered squalls and contained eruptions, all with an idiosyncratic grammar that glues it together. His syntax contains hints of raw power and much refined application, and it communicates wonderfully with collaborators who intuitively know how to speak a similar sonic dialect.

Enter pianist Matthew Shipp. We Speak is this duo's first recording, and I believe, their second all told following 2019's Season Of Sadness with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. After a few spins of We Speak, one would not suspect that this is not the work of a long standing duo. Shipp effortlessly builds up the environment with strong tonal clusters and rhythmic figures as Gjerstad darts around and interjects sonic splatters amongst delightfully melodic sprints. Structures emerge through both Shipp's reactions to Gjerstad's edgy and sweeping lines, and the saxophonist's reciprocal filling in of the musical spaces.

All of Shipp's musical gifts are put to use in ensconsing Gjerstad's sounds in harmonic fit-to-form packages. From the opening moments, when we hear the saxophonist introduce a series of vibrant, akimbo tones and then sharp, strident tonal fragments from the piano, to their suddenly pulling back and delivering of a lithe melody adorned by tonal fragments, it is riveting. The results are perfect crystallizations of spontaneous music, the product of the unique chemistry of two masterful improvisors. We Speak is a challenging and exciting album that I'll continue to listen to as I mull over my emerging 'saxophone squeaks' classification system.


Colin Green said...

A very perceptive review, Paul.