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.
Was Derome’s latest Sudoku pour pygmées more of a rock-based album if you want, this time it is all about jazz. Not with compositions by his hand, but nine compositions written by Steve Lacy and selected by Derome. Lacy, who died in 2004, deeply influenced Derome during his career. The works are performed by his trio, consisting also of Normand Guilbeault (double bass) and Pierre Tanguay (drums). The trio debuted in 2004 with work with compositions by Derome. On later releases, they started to dig into jazz history and interpreted works by Ellington, Mengelberg, Konitz, Dolphy, a.o. But this time as said a release completely dedicated to one composer: Karen Young and Alexandre Grogg, who both have a prominent role on this recording, assist them. Young is a singer, composer and arranger from Quebec, singing in contexts of classical, world as well as jazz. Grogg, also from Quebec, studied improvisation, worked with Normand Guilbeault, Michel Côté and co-leads the quintet Ensemble en pièces. They concentrate on nine compositions by Lacy, or to be more precise songs by Lacy, he composed that for his wife and musical companion/vocalist Irene Aebi. Lacy is known most of all for his work as a free improviser on alto sax, performer and short-time collaborator of Monk, but what I discover now is that Lacy was also a composer of solid and beautiful melodic material, literally hundreds of songs. So I guess it took a while for Derome to select a few of them for his project. Songs that have lyrics written by Lao Tzu, Thomas Gainsborough, Herman Melville and Brion Gysin. The works are performed with verve and swing by the musicians, and the vocals by Young are great. This is music is very lively and breaths.
This orchestra was started in 1992 on the initiative of Montréal-based composer, double bassist and bandleader Nicolai Caloia. He is into improvised as well as composed music and the combination of both, for small and very big line-ups. With his big-sized Ratchet Orchestra, he wants to explore improvised ‘chamber jazz’. For the Hemlock project in 2012 over 30 performers were part of the orchestra. For Coco Swirl he chooses for a smaller crew. But with following 19 musicians we can still speak of an ensemble of big band proportions: Lori Freedman (clarinets), Jean Derome (flutes, baritone saxophone), Yves Charuest (alto saxophone), Aaron Leaney (tenor saxophone), Jason Sharp (bass saxophone), Ellwood Epps (trumpet), Craig Pedersen (trumpet), Scott Thomson (trombone), Jacques Gravel (contrabass trombone), Julie Richard (tuba), Joshua Zubot (violin), James Annett (viola), Jean René (viola), Guillaume Dostaler (piano), Ken Doolittle (percussion), Isaiah Ceccarelli (drum set) and Nicolas Caloia (double bass, conductor). So we are in the company of some very pronounced and experienced players who bring in a lot of ideas and experience and make this a very lively and enjoyable recording. Caloia delivered the compositions. The last one, Before is After, is a suite in six parts. Term ‘improvised chamber jazz’, describes very well what he is aiming for. Jazz and improvisation make an organic whole with features of academic composed music. His intelligent compositions are of fascinating complexity and relevance. They make up an ideal starting point for excellent and expressive improvising. Many intriguing moments pass by in this eclectic universe that is bursting of musical ideas. The instrumentation is very diverse and colourful assuring fine contrasts like the one in Blood between the blowers and the experimental electric guitar played by Shalabi. This is more than an excellent release in a transparent recording.
Lori Freedman needs no introduction here. She is an exceptional performer (clarinet), improviser and composer from Canada. Doing some 75 performances a year, hundreds of compositions were premiered by her over the years. Recently we reviewed Freedman’s solo work Excess. Accompanying her 2016-tour, The Virtuosity of Excess, that had Freedman performing compositions by others (mainly) of very detailed notation. After this intensive period, Freedman felt the urge to play and express more of her own music and work. As a consequence, these recordings came about. She is performing here five of her own compositions, plus doing two improvisations, playing B-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet and voice. This is once again another very worthwhile solo statement by this extraordinary player; very communicative and vibrant music from a very open-minded musician who wants to investigate every corner, crossing every border. Not afraid of extremes and far-out gestures. Her music is full of contrasts, intro and extravert, raw and polished, changes in speed and dynamics, extended techniques, etc. Always in the function of the musical story, she has to tell.