"Sperrgut + Cruxes"
Musicians: Birgit Ulher/Damon Smith/Martin Blume + Aurora Josephson / Joelle Leandre / Damon Smith / Martin Blume
Reviewed by Richard Moule, Signal To Noise
Two examples of the restless, small gesture free improv U.K. style from Bay-area bassist Smith’s Balance Point Acoustics label. Smith and German drummer Blume are the constants here on this pair of discs which differ only slightly in sound, and are remarkably similar in approach, featuring sonic modulations, timbral explorations, spatial dynamics and jump cut exchanges.
It’s all for one and one for all on Sperrgut, but ultimately it is German trumpeter Ulher who stands out on this 2004 session of spirited cross hatches and pretzel-like lattices. Like her fellow European exponents of minimal brass and breath resonations, Axel Dorner and Franz Hautzinger, Ulher’s Bill Dixon-like morse code extended techniques of sputters, chortles, chirps, spurts, bleats and air generations dart and hover like a hummingbird pecking at a flower. Smith and Blume bob and weave, cutting and thrusting when there is an opening. Like Ulher, they aren’t interested in adhering to any conventions as they roam, rattle and stroke their instruments in focused bursts, never lingering too long in one place. Ulher has long been interested in painting, particularly abstract expressionism, and accordingly she gives the tracks canvas-like specifications, ie 6.30 X 1.60 X 3.25 m.
Jackson Pollock’s feverish slash and drip painting strategies would easily fit in just as easily here as they would on Cruxes, compiled of tracks from a studio session and live performance from 2004. Smith and Blume employ the same kind of rhythmic vocabulary as on Sperrgut, but the presence of blood curdling vocalist Josephson and French contrabassist Leandre beef up the improvisations and fill in the spaces laid bare on Sperrgut. The two women also bring an austere acidity to these knotted and tangled interactions. Leandre is known for her muscular astringency and she brings this power to these exciting dialogues, especially when she locks horns with Smith (who shows why he was more than capable of keeping up with the late Peter Kowald on their duet disc Mirrors—Broken But No Dust). On the closing 19-minute “Hodie Mihl, Cras Tibi!”, Leandre, Blume and Smith not only ebb and flow between meditative drones and pugilistic sparring, they also leave plenty of room for Josephson to showcase her demonic Diamonda Galas vocalese. Screw Norah Jones, Diana Krall and all the other retro divas. In a perfect world, Josephson would be the standard for female jazz vocalists. Then again her possessed moans and upper register, tonsil-stretching cries might scare off the chain store latte drinkers. Too bad. They could use a jolt and not just of caffeine.
Richard Moule, Signal to Noise