Point of Departure review by Stuart Broomer

Urs Leimgruber + Evan Parker Twine (CF194CD)
Urs Leimgruber – Chicago Solo (Leo CD)
The Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber has been active in free improvisation for several decades and he is a master of those things usually referred to as extended techniques – circular breathing, multiphonics, the use of key pads as percussion, and fingering and tonguing so rapid that either can suggest a nervous tapping on a telegraph key. That resemblance to a telegraph key is central for it suggests both the rapidity of thought and the movement outward, lines shooting out into open spaces already colonized by the prior (now simultaneous) flocks of birds and phantom oscillators present in Leimgruber’s soundscape. Some of the techniques were first developed or combined by Evan Parker and John Butcher, two fountainheads of solo saxophone technique, but that is strangely irrelevant here. Leimgruber has assembled, developed and mastered the elements of what is increasingly a central language of saxophone improvisation and he has been deploying it for his own distinct musical ends in a series of solo recordings over the past two decades. It’s not a language or a style until a group of people possess and use it, and Urs Leimgruber has his own voice, or voices.

Chicago Solo, recorded in 2009, invokes Evan Parker’s 1995 recording  (on Okka Disk) of the same name in which Parker first applied himself at length to solo tenor saxophone. It also invokes the Chicago milieu in which Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie and Anthony Braxton first gave regular voice to improvised horn solos, now a central form in improvised music. It is Leimgruber’s most developed solo statement to date. It consists of three pieces, entitled simply “One, “Two” and “Three.” “One” is an epic soprano solo, a voyage of 27’23” in which Leimgruber begins with tenuous high notes then gradually asserts his varied voices, which wander, explore, shift mood, combine, disperse and transform auditory terrain (there is an oasis of fluting bird sounds), all with a commanding interior logic.

In “Two,” a 19-minute tenor solo, Leimgruber transfers many of the same techniques to the deeper horn, though the effect of the piece is utterly different. It is as if the pieces of sound are breaking together, fragmenting into one another, thus rather than a line–a melody, even– breaking up into micro components, a phrase, a line, a sequence will suddenly arise out of the fragments and sonic wisps with which he works. This tenuous melody will launch another, more secure, arpeggiated and multiphonic line, and so on. Often the characteristic sounds of one of the saxophone’s zones will leak into the next like a sonic glance backward, a question about the meaning or even the presence of a relationship. 

The relatively brief “Three” return to soprano and an assemblage of high squeaks and quavering multiphonics. It may suggest a man testing doorbells for another dimension or a shakuhachi virtuoso summoning hypothetical birds.

Twine  comes from a duo concert recorded at The Loft in Köln in 2007 when Leimgruber and Parker were touring together. The two are extraordinary duo players as well as soloists and the music is often overwhelming in terms of the sheer complexity and rapidity of the interaction. It is frankly too dense to isolate or describe passages from either the two long tenor duos or the soprano duo that they bracket. I was reminded of the group Quartet Noir in which Leimgruber plays with Joelle Léandre, Marilyn Crispell and Fritz Hauser. One would expect, in even the subtlest hands that such a group would start to sound like the saxophone with rhythm section that it so clearly resembles visually. Instead it almost never sounds like one, because Leimgruber doesn’t assume the saxophone’s insistently foregrounded position. Instead he burrows into the music , his lines emerging through those of the bass, piano and drums, so that the result is an absolutely cohesive quartet music. He is a master conversationalist, much of which, of course, consists in getting other people to talk, or more appropriately in these situations, to go on, to elaborate, to get it all out. At times here the horns play together as a continuous outpouring of lines in which one will sympathetically echo the other, respond , cajole, cluck sympathetically. Often it’s musical dialogue played at such velocity and density that you’re never quite sure where statement ends and comment begins. Or, if it’s two soloists simply rushing on, how do they manage to be so alike, so attuned to one another’s time and lines? Twine is a very special performance (string, entwined, between, twins, the uniformity of rope).

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