Urs Leimgruber/Evan Parker – Twine (CF 194)
The International Nothing – Less Action, Less Excitement, Less Everything (Ftarri 219)
Setting up some of the most difficult interface imaginable here – two unaccompanied reed duos – are two veteran improvisers and two younger players all of whom manage to extract panoramic timbres from their respective instruments. One common strategy is to avoid harmonic unison in favor of broken octaves or double counterpoint tropes. The side-by-side variants revealed are particularly fascinating when both musicians are play saxophones in one case, or clarinets in the other.
Nonetheless sonic supremacy shouldn’t surprise in the case of British saxophonist Evan Parker and his Swiss counterpart Urs Leimgruber on Twine. Present at the birth of Euro Improv in the mid-1960s, Parker has maintained impeccable standards since then, working with other first generation players such as bassist Barry Guy and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach as well as a clutch of increasingly younger experimenters. A little short of a decade younger, Leimgruber was initially a members of the Fusion band OM, graduating in the 1980s to more abstract improvisations which he now specializes in, working with confreres ranging from French bassist Joëlle Léandre to German synthesizer player Thomas Lehn.
A generation removed from the saxophonists, the members of The International Nothing, German clarinetists Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke, are committed to pure abstraction, as well as more melody-based projects. Thieke, for instance, is a member of Dok Wallach, a Charles Mingus tribute band, and both play with singer Margareth Kammerer and electronic manipulator/vocalist Christof Kurzmann. Fagaschinski’s flirtation with restrained lap-top sounds also ally him with reductionist sounds. In fact while the Twine duo appears preoccupied with the energetic output of high-pitched, fortissimo and staccato timbres, the improvising on Less Action, Less Excitement, Less Everything – true to its title – slides and sluices around enervated tones, with the doubled tessitura sometimes masked by extended silences.
Occasionally reflecting the clarinets’ wooden properties, most of Fagaschinski’s and Thieke’s layered reed tones are solid and almost unbreakable. While chromatic and undulating, the double counterpoint is more moderato than agitato and except for bursts of forte shrilling, deftly expressed in mid-range tones. Polytonality abounds, with pitch vibrations occasionally taking on pipe-organ-like cohesion, and on every track, diminishing into near-inaudibility for a short period before a final variant bubbles to the sonic surface. Only rarely as well do the two lines separate either, with one becoming nearly mellow and the other sharply staccato.
“Crystal Clear Fog” is a fine example of this approach. Not only do the initial lines undulate in unison as they move infinitesimally up the scale, but one clarinetist manages to sound a grace note with almost trumpet-like in construction and another as if woodwind trills are refracting back from a piano’s innards. Eventually it appears as if the pressurized tones are constantly spilling outwards until they reach an almost lighter-than-air stasis. Following a short interlude of air being forced through two body tubes, harmonized reed chirping is mutated into strident chromaticism as the finale.
Despite this instance, the vast majority of the dual clarinetists’ timbres are gentle undulations compared to the extruded shrieks, peeps and jagged false-register runs that characterize the Parker-Leimgruber interface. Over the course of three lengthy selections, the two shift effortlessly from tenor to soprano saxophones, although it’s never clear which alternative is in use at any one time. Occasionally operating in lockstep, but more frequently like yelping dogs chasing one another, their circling timbres encompass an army of extended techniques. There are staccatissimo cries and reed bites, verbalized squeaks, lip smacks, flutter tones and tongue slaps, splayed textures and vector movements. If one player strays towards lyricism, the other’s response is splintered and staccato. And circular breathing is used to mark timbral shifts.
The two stretch their tessitura as early as “Twine”, and continue spluttering and squeaking with advanced circular tones and partially illuminated tinctures all the way to the final “Twist”. Sluicing and side-slipping into double counterpoint, with spaced puffs, honks and bell-muting tones definitely attributable to one nor the other, neither overshadows the other. Jagged reed bites taken fortissimo sometimes expose metal friction, while linear rows of ghost notes, key percussion and spetrofluctuation mirror, without copying, each other’s lines. Exhibiting the rhythmic power available from two reeds blowing at full force on “Twine”, the dissonance created by this furious overtone interplay implies additional lines then those from two sound sources. Eventually the vocalized and vibrating reed tones reach a peak of strangled cries and tongue slaps before slipping away to silence.
Meeting the doubled reed challenge in their own fashion, appreciation for each – or both – of these CDs depends only on the listeners’ preferences for pacing and dissonance.