Pago Libre: Wake Up Call
Tscho Theissing (violin, voice), Arkady Shilkloper (french horn, flugelhorn), John Wolf Brennan (piano, melodica), Daniele Patumi (bass)
Brennan/Coleman/Wolfarth: Momentum(Leo: CDLR274)
John Wolf Brennan (piano, prepared piano), Gene COleman (bass clarinet, melodica), Christian Wolfarth (percussion)
Two releases on Leo; one an opportunity to hear an established group in a live setting, the other a new grouping and a step into what seems to be a new compositional direction for Brennan.
Pago Libre are, like many groups, even hotter in concert than they are in the studio. The sense of headlong rush, driven by nervous excitement, with which the disc opens does cool off from time to time, but it rarely vanishes; this group's intelligent, highly committed vision of jazz, complete with heads, changes and solos, is quite unlike anyone else's.
Some of these compositions are ones which have been recorded before -- "Wake up Call" and "Toccatacca", and the cerebral, seemingly through-composed ballad "Tupi-Kulai". It's interesting to hear them re-interpreted. "Wake up Call" and "Tupti Kulai" retain the arrangements which Pago Libre committed to disc on CDLR45105, a joint release by Leo Records and Ballaphon from 1996. Meanwhile, "Toccatacca" and "Kabak", recorded by the quintet Shooting Stars and Traffic Lights on their eponymous 1995 album, get fresh new arrangements to account for the slightly different instrumentation of Pago Libre.
Those interested in the individual musicians will find more information in the reviews of these two previous disks; Theissing, Shilkloper and Patumi are extraordinary musicians ideally suited to Brennan's fusion of bebop, free jazz, improv and world folk. Take Theissing's introduction to "Kabak"; a four-minute firey furnace of Indo-Jewish impro-jazz which builds towards the foot-stomping theme and has the audience begging for more.
As for the compositions which haven't been committed to mica before, they have much in common with the pieces with which they share the bill. Patumi's "African Blossom" is clearly a variation on his previous "African Flower", although more diffuse, a sophisticated and delicate duet with Theissing's violin. Shilkloper's "Folk Song" is a solo cadenza of almost discursive clarity, while "Kobra" is another convoluted thread which the musicians play as if it were "Body and Soul"; it isn't, and it constantly twists and turns in unexpected directions. "Synopsis", meanwhile, is a more sedate variation on the "Wake up Call" model, with its sweet harmonies and punchy rhythms, this time with a rather sectional arrangement of solos.
Pago Libre live are evidently well worth catching, a well-drilled team which has existed for over a decade, playing a music which is simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic. In contrast, the trio of Brennan, Gene Coleman and Christian Wolfarth is new, spikey and exploratory project. While Pago Libre has the benefit of time to create something honed, this trio has the alternate virtue of not seeming to know quite what will happen next.
The disk documents what is referred to as "comprovisations in a vertical circle". Attempting to disentangle John Corbetts pretentiously obfuscating liner notes (bad news: he seems to have rediscovered Deleuze and Guattari from his grad-school days, folks; the logorrhea may never cease), it seems that there is some compositional element here, influenced by Stockhausen's conception of "moment form". The truth is that Wolfarth and Coleman are both free improvisors, with little background (as far as this writer is aware) in score interpretation, and the truth is that this sounds like a free improv album even if it's not.
The format is four duets and six trios. Of the duets, Brennan appears on two and his colleagues on three each (you work it out). Wolfarth is a percussionist in the Han Bennink school, pushing home the uneven pulses of this shifting music with still a vestige of jazz swing under his fingernails. There are moments when he seems only interested in texture, but they don't last long. Wolfarth's desire to ride the waves is too strong. He even, on "To hoo wa bo hoo", briefly strikes up a Blakey-style paradiddle which one half-expects to turn into "Blues March".
That puts him in a strong tradition of free players, although this writer finds that attachment to jazz can sometimes be a problem. However, this trio seems interested specifically in forming a connection between free jazz as played by, say, the Jimmy Guiffre trio, and the more ascetic forms of chamber improv which are now fairly common. There is a chilliness here which is very appealing, although it takes some getting used to. One could refer to it as "cold school"; it takes some of the supposedly glacial austerity of Northern European composers like Magnus Lindberg and applies it to the premise of chamber jazz.
That makes for an extremely interesting record, and a very varied one, as the three try out different strategies for making this music which is quite unlike anything else, what with the unorthodox instrumentation, the unique approaches of the players and the overall feel of the project being resolutely non-partisan.