Point of Departure review by Troy Collins

Kris Davis / Ingrid Laubrock / Tyshawn Sorey – Paradoxical Frog (CF 183)

Tom Rainey Trio – Pool School (CF 185)

Since 2001, Portugal’s Clean Feed Records has ceaselessly documented new creative improvised music on both sides of the Atlantic. Their astonishingly prolific run continues, with two recent trio releases – Pool School and Paradoxical Frog – sharing similarities in approach and personnel, including up and coming German-born saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock.

A former student of David Liebman, Laubrock’s unorthodox soprano and tenor technique is refreshingly devoid of the clichéd mannerisms typically adopted by many post-Coltrane saxophonists. Her vocalized tone and predilection for expressive outbursts is balanced by a subdued lyricism and dynamic sensitivity, veering from spectral whispers to howling cries. Laubrock recently relocated to New York City from London following the release of her widely acclaimed 2008 trio album Sleepthief (Intakt), a collective effort with British pianist Liam Noble and American drummer Tom Rainey. A reunion of sorts, Pool School once again features Laubrock and Rainey in a trio setting, this time accompanied by the phenomenal Brooklyn-based guitarist Mary Halvorson. Rainey’s long-awaited debut as a leader, Pool School is the first title issued under his own name after over two decades and countless records made as a sideman with artists as diverse as Tim Berne, Jane Ira Bloom and Carmen McRae.

Comprised of a dozen collectively improvised pieces running an average of four to five minutes, this date shares numerous conceptual similarities with Sleepthief. Both albums offer experimental narratives bolstered by considered interplay and impressively intuitive logic, with Halvorson’s idiosyncratic electric guitar providing a far more assertive edge than Noble’s crystalline piano. Whether worrying volume pedal-swelled riffs, finger picking unresolved arpeggios or pitch bending sampled loops into oscillating sine waves, she maintains a consistent flow of capricious ideas, providing surging momentum to the session’s fluidly abstract demeanor.

Laubrock’s embouchure and phrasing is well suited to these sketches, her breathy to guttural utterances readily embellished and exacerbated by Halvorson’s oblique six string extrapolations. Rainey’s pneumatic drive reinforces his trio-mates affinity for coarse textures and caustic expressionism, with spiky climactic interludes dominating cuts like “Three Bag Mary,” and “Semi-Bozo.” The aptly titled “Om on the Range” and the ghostly closer “Pacification” showcase the trio’s sensitive side with intimate pointillist explorations that spotlight Rainey’s knack for conjuring evocative moods and textures, rather than simply framing his abilities as a percussive powerhouse.

Laubrock is also on the front line for Paradoxical Frog, which treads comparable sonic territory to Rainey’s album while mirroring the instrumental line-up of her highly touted Sleepthief. For this date, the international pairing of Noble and Rainey has been replaced by the duo of pianist Kris Davis and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. The key difference between Paradoxical Frog and both Pool School and Sleepthief is the equally divided authorship of pre-written material; each member contributes compositions, resulting in a somewhat more varied and structurally defined recording.

One of the most acclaimed new artists to emerge in the past decade, Sorey’s persona has been split between the breakneck polyrhythms of his sideman gigs and his burgeoning abilities as a composer, one whose fascination with austere minimalism continues to manifest itself in interesting and occasionally frustrating ways; for all the empty silence of “Homograph” there is the burgeoning emotional fire at the heart of “Slow Burn” to counter it. Sorey’s dynamic diversity is shared by his compatriots, whose interests are equally expansive; Davis’ influences range from Gyorgi Ligeti to Paul Bley. Davis and Laubrock’s contributions also tend to be more vibrant and engaging, with Davis’ riotous, almost ritualistic opener, “Iron Spider” and the punchy “Ghost Machine” providing cathartic stabs of angularity to an otherwise austere session.

Despite the division of material, similarities in writing styles appear occasionally. Davis’ closing “Feldman” follows an analogous trajectory to Sorey’s “Slow Burn,” gradually arcing from serene piano refrains to a taut collective climax and a somber coda. Though Laubrock only contributes two pieces, they are among the album’s highlights. Journeying episodically from lyrical introspection and hyperkinetic aggression to nervy quietude, the title track encapsulates all of the album’s primary themes. “Canines” streamlines the same concepts, trading an extended bout of regal impressionism for a muscular, funky coda.

Following in the wake of Sleepthief, the simultaneous release of Pool School and Paradoxical Frog make a strong case for Ingrid Laubrock as a major new player worthy of extra attention, and is a testament to the creative diversity of the Downtown scene and Clean Feed’s efforts to document it.

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