Martin (b.1975), a new name to this listener, is a Québecois composer. His Musique d’art pour quintette à cordes is for string quartet plus a double bassist, here Quatuor Bozzini (Clemens Merkel, violin; Alissa Cheung, violin; Stéphanie Bozzini, viola; Isabelle Bozzini, cello) augmented by bassist Pierre-Alexandre Maranda.
The piece is in five sections, each lasting between ten and fifteen minutes. Although almost entirely consisting of long-held notes, I don’t particularly hear the music as drone-related. Martin seems much more concerned with timbre and very physical textures, reminding me a little of the string music of Helmut Lachenmann. The opening section is all whispers, bows drawn lightly across either damped strings or portions of the instruments’ bodies (I think). Gradually, the tones gain substance, sliding up against one another microtonally, grain against grain. Even so, the first movement is fairly relaxed, with an implicit, soft rocking back and forth. The next section introduces the darkly growling bass that will feature throughout the work’s remainder, but also even rougher, harshly vibrating strings where the vibration of the cords is a palpable presence, though Martin also injects a substantial amount of “air” into the proceedings, ensuring that the overall effect isn’t claustrophobic. It dissolves into drips and drizzles by the movement’s end. The next portion is somewhat eerie, with sliding tones oozing past each other, undergirded by heavy bass lines, the higher pitches popping like bubbles towards its conclusion. This aura is picked up in the fourth section, soon developing into staggered, quasi-rhythmic short bowings from bass and cello beneath high chirps — a kind of ungainly, but charming, march. In the last few minutes, the music wallows around an A, a cloudy, rich tuning session, vibrating intensely, casting off all manner of particles. Martin pulls all these strands together in the final section: the rich, thundering bass, the ethereal high microtones and even an underlying sense of near-Romantic melody, just a touch, as though a guiding spirit might have been Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead all this time (far more likely only this listener’s takeaway).
Very impressive, super-solidly played by the Bozzini plus one — a heady outing.
In 2017, Switzerland’s Cyril Bondi, German Christoph Schiller and Montréal-based Pierre-Yves Martel came together as the trio Tse (which means “here” in a Swiss mountain dialect) with Bondi playing harmonium and pitch pipes, Schiller spinet, and Martel on viola da gamba. Despite the early musical instruments, extemporization plays its part, as all three players are experienced improvisers. Their first music was improvised but soon became more structured by using pieces of paper with two, three or four pitches written on them to determine the form of their improvisations.
In November 2017, employing the methods described above, Tse recorded an album that was released on Another Timbre in May 2018, to enthusiastic reviews. At the end of a short European tour, Tse played London’s Café Oto in October 2018; after an opening performance by the trio, their guest violinist Angharad Davies played solo and then joined the trio to form a quartet which played the final set of the evening. The music on Awirë is that quartet set, recorded live that evening.
Because of its source, there were a couple of issues with the recording. Firstly, it picked up street noise from outside Café Oto (a common occurrence at the venue) which had to be cleaned up; fortunately, with Simon Reynell on the job, the sound quality is superb and bears no traces of such distractions. Secondly, as the quartet performance on the night ran for just over half-an-hour, that is the album length; as always in such cases, it is important to remember that quality always outweighs quantity, a view proven out by (too) many reissues that have been padded with unreleased takes of dubious quality. More does not necessarily mean better, nor does less equate to worse.
Although the quartet performance was a one-off—so far unrepeated and maybe likely to remain so—the four clearly clicked straight away, sounding as if they regularly played as a foursome. In particular, Davies readily took to the trio’s use of notes on pieces of paper to shape their improvisations—although that evening two of the pieces were blank, to encourage free improv. The end results feature all four players equally, with no-one leading or dominating unduly. The instruments’ sounds meld together into a blend that is very easy on the ear, with enough happening to keep it interesting throughout but not so much that it becomes cluttered. As the range of instruments played by the four suggests, there was plenty of scope to keep the soundscape fresh and varied—in Davies’ and Schiller’s cases by employing different playing methods.
As a whole, the piece is such a success that it is possible to envisage more improvisers adopting the ’pieces of paper’ methodology in future. For now, the only remaining mystery is why this quartet has not recorded together again, maybe in a studio, with more time at their disposal. On the evidence of Awirë the results should be quite special.
Monicker is Arthur Bull (guitarist), Scott Thomson (trombone) and Roger Turner (drums). Veteran Bull originates from the Toronto scene. In the 70s and 80s, he was a member of the Toronto-based CCMC and worked with Michael Snow, vocalist Paul Dutton and John Oswald and many others. In 1990 he moved to a small village in Nova Scotia, and music was no longer his main activity. Although it was here that he worked with another guitarist, Daniel Heikalo, resulting in two beautiful CDs by from this sparsely documented performer: Dérapages à cordes (2000) and Concentrés et amalgames (2006). In contrast veteran UK drummer and improviser, Roger Turner is very well documented on an uncountable amount of releases documenting his many collaborations (Annette Peacock, Tim Hodgkinson, Otomo Yoshihide, etc, etc,). Like Bull, composer and trombonist Scott Thomson is from Toronto. He is a creative force behind the Montréal-Toronto Art Orchestra playing Roscoe Mitchell’s music. Both Turner and Bull play as a duo since 2002, meeting meanwhile in other ad hoc projects. They invited Thomson during the Halifax residency in 2017, and Monicker was born. As Monicker, they toured Eastern Canada and recorded this debut. Six of their improvisations made it to this release, underlining they make a very flexible and tight unit. Their improvisations pass by very fluently and intensively at a considerable speed and always very focused. Very manoeuvrable and vivid interactions, built from small gestures and movements by all three players. A joy!
Undoubtedly one of the most successful encounters Québécois have had with a British citizen since 1759, this live CD captures the close musical cooperation among London-based tenor and soprano saxophonist John Butcher, Montréal-based bass clarinetist Philippe Lauzier and electric bassist Éric Normand from Rimouski. With Lauzier and Normand part of a contingent of forward-looking local players who have forged international connections, How Does This Happen’s two five-part instant compositions were recorded live during concerts in Montréal and Ottawa. Closely connected minimalist improvisations which have seen Butcher playing with numerous fellow sound explorers in Europe, North America and Asia, many of the tracks depend on the two reed players floating barely-there vibrations, while Normand’s bass and object shuffling provide the balancing fulcrum on which tones balance while peeping or trilling. While the majority of reed tones divide into smaller and smaller units as they’re pushed forward, multiphonic explosions are prominent at points as well. Case in point is En conséquence III, where strained reed puffs and nearly inaudible bass thumps soon evolve into regular rumbles as an electronic-tinged continuum, allowing full reign to upwards twisting, irregular vibrations from both saxophone and clarinet. The climatic En conséquence V intensifies these brief reflective motifs into harsher reed honks and band saw-like bass string buzzing into more pressurized yet sonically descriptive narrative. Performed with the same intensity that introduces snarling chalameau lowing, bird-like trills and an episode where it appears that the rolling friction from a gran cassa has replaced expected electric bass reverberations, Par irruption continues this close communion. While cleverly timed tongue slaps and coloratura drones emanate from both reedists, this resulting contrapuntal challenge is somewhat lessened by passages of almost sweet interface between the two. That the amiable sequence which is part of Par irruption IV is actually a prelude to subsequent tongue stops and line deconstruction only underlines the trio’s versatility. Finally that set is completed by thinner, quieter and more fractured reed vibrations plus bass rumbles proving that the group has achieved its goals within its self-defined parameters. This is another high-quality CD confirming Butcher’s adaptability and showing how Canadian players can hold their own in any international situation.