Leo Lab / CD036
Lauren Newton /vocals, Joelle Leandre / bass, vocals, Uschi Bruning / vocals, Joachim Gies / saxophone, bass clarinet, Thomas Wiedermann / trombone, shakuhachi, Jurgen Kupke / clarinet, Elisabeth Bohm-Christl / bassoon, double bassoon, Ulli Bartel / violin, Gerhard Ubele / violin, Thomas Bohm-Christl / cello, Hartwig Nickola / bass, Dieter Zeretzke / piano
Large-group music without a drum kit is hardly much of a novelty, and if that were all NMDP were offering then this would be a slight thing indeed. Fortunately, there is a lot more to it than that; the group aims to fuse classical and jazz ideas in a music world which transcends both. Perhaps they do miss the drums occasionally — preparations are used in the piano for percussive effect at one point, while at another the group strike the bodies of their instruments at create a disjointed riff. The absence of a trap set, however, does give them a more chamber-oriented sound, and it reduces the temptation to divide the group into rhythm section, horn section and soloist.
From the first note, you can feel the quality. Although track one — beguilingly entitled “From the Jerking of the Eels” — is atypical, it’s lots of fun, a jazzy knockabout with freewheeling, post-Taylor piano. From here on in, however, the music takes a more serious turn, and the track titles become things like “Equivalents”, “Vibration” and “Constellations for Basses”. Here the classical influence comes to the fore, and the atonal but post-serialist composition of the 1970s and ‘80s springs to mind. Some tracks even feature the singers’ relatively legitimate sounds in oratorio-derived settings, reminding this writer of Alexander Goehr.
Gies, Wiedermann and Thomas Bohn-Christl get composer credits, and there is a fair bit of composition on this record, but their individual voices are difficult to pin down. Gies and Bohn-Christl do either contrapuntal, atonal pieces or rather more funky workouts. Wiedermann contributes two oddly understated pieces, more like group improvisations than compositions in the accepted sense, and this is symptomatic of the album as a whole. There are certainly sections which must have been, and sections which could not have been, composed, but the majority is music which is less easy to pin down; music which must result from either near-telepathic improvisation or unusually organic writing.
The real stars are the vocalists, all three masters of unhinged jabber and wail, all three remarkably varied in vocabulary yet mostly identifiable. In the ensemble sections, they blend with the horns and strings rather than singing words, but it is their solo improvisations which really stand out, hair-raising and hilarious by turns and consistently involving. They improvise their words, one suspects, but stick mostly to a deranged scat, although Newton at one point launches into “Roll Me Over In The Clover” followed by a deluge of obscene-sounding German.
The other instrumentalists get the reduced solo space that comes with the territory, but fill it interestingly. Special mention should be made for Elisabeth Bohm-Christl, playing a reed which even Braxton balks at and breaking a little ground while doing so. The whole recording is an excellent piece of work, and probably one of the most enjoyable and original albums of the year. Richard Cochrane