FMP / OWN90012
Gregor Hotz / reeds, Nicholas Bussmann / cello
For4Ears / CDNR1137
Urs Leimgruber / saxophones
Newsonic / 17
Seth Misterka / saxophones, samples
Too many of them there may be, and unapproachable they often feel, but there are times when only an ascetic solo saxophone album will do. Here are three very recent releases from artists you may or may not have heard of. There’s Hotz, who’s played sideman to Fuchs, Lacy and Koch; Leimgruber, whose quartet album with Marilyn Crispell was reviewed in the last edition; and finally there’s Misterka, whose work with the Middletown Creative Orchestra, CCM4 and other groups will be known to regular readers.
Both Hotz and Leimgruber take a traditional, “vocabulary statement” approach, the latter much more than the former. Although both used “extended techniques” very heavily, Leimgruber’s disc is by far the more virtuosic-sounding, and each piece draws some of its coherence from the fact that it focuses on a small and unique technical range; Leimgruber virtually uses timbre like Sonny Rollins used melody, as a source of constant, effervescent invention within a restricted orbit.
Hotz does take this sort of approach — on “Mondo Cane”, for example, he tries submerging has bass horn while playing it, something which sounds okay enough, although anyone who’s listened to a lot of Lacy or Zorn will have heard it before. He’s most effective, though, when he puts these kinds of ideas aside and simply pursues a stream of consciousness. The results are low-key and not, initially, very involving, but they’re worth sticking with.
Leimgruber grabs you immediately and ensures that, at every moment, he has your full attention. Sometimes we need that, especially when he has such enjoyable ways to make good use of the attention got thereby. Hotz is a little more diffident, and doesn’t seem to mind whether you listen or not. It can sound like a bedroom tape at times, but much of the music here is surprisingly imaginative once you let it get hold of you.
Hotz has Bussmann on the final third of the disc, which is an odd strategy because it makes the album look broken-backed before it’s even out of the cellophane. There’s a good fifty minutes of solo stuff here anyway, and it’s hard to see what tacking these duets on the end was intended to achieve. They’re nice enough, but the sleeve notes’ claim that these two musicians share the same vocabulary isn’t bourne out by what’s here. Bussmann is a pretty straight cellist, working mainly with long, bowed tones or rhythmic ostinati while Hotz takes solos. Both play well, but one yearns for a more dynamic rhythm section which would really stretch the reedsman so we could see what he’s really made of.
Leimgruber’s disc is shorter than the solo section of Hotz’s, but it packs a terrific punch. As ever with such things, the insert assures us that there were no overdubs involved, and so Leimgruber’s can – it – be – for – real techniques must be for real after all. Albums like this can be terribly tedious, and I suppose that someone with no interest at all in saxophone techique might find it a bit of a drag, but Leimbgruber pushes his wildly eccentric vocabulary in some satisfyingly musical directions. The end results are consistently listenable assuming, as always, you like that sort of thing; and this disc has moments which are eye-bogglingly impressive both technically and musically.
Seth Misterka’s solo disc is the shortest of the lot, and the least overtly serious-minded. While Hotz and Leimgruber — quite properly — try to boil down their musical conceptions in this most exposed of formats, Misterka layers percussion, electronics and other bits and bobs alongside his sax in an overtly overdubbed manner. The results are fun, and there are even tunes, which may come as a surprise to those who know Misterka as the hardcore modernist behind CCM4.
The compositions — for compositions they are — are lumpy and distinctly badly-behaved. “Pizza Pete” sounds like it’s barging through a crowd with a Pepperoni Special on each arm, while “Pornographic Music” takes the cinematic associations of the solo sax to their logical conclusion by dubbing on the sounds of people… well, you work it out.
Misterka has a solid, if unconventional technique, but many of these pieces are played with gusto rather than precision, which only adds to the overall sense of bad attitude and cheerful make-do. None of this should be taken to imply that this is an easy record, with tracks like the bristlingly complicated “RAM the Robot” and the industrial noise collage “[12.1.99]”. It’s pretty harsh in places, but there’s a sense of humour running throughout it which levens what can otherwise turn into a rather lonely and frustrating kind of music. This isn’t really a solo sax record, in the sense that it’s a solo record by a saxophonist who also does a lot of other things. It just shows how different these things can be, though, from the traditional solo reed workout. Not that there’s anything wrong with those — Leimgruber’s, especially, is an excellent piece of work, and one hopes that we’ll hear more from him in the future. Richard Cochrane