Trumpets and Drums – Live in Ljubljana (CF 282)
Kaze – Tornado (Circum Libra Records)
Taking legendary musical battles like those of King Oliver vs. Freddie Keppard as a starting point, trumpet duals are as old as Jazz itself. Nonetheless unreserved experimentation, which has characterized the best improvised music over the past few decades, has transformed the idea of so-called cutting contests into episodes of cooperation. You can note it in these CDs which both feature two trumpeters with rhythmic accompaniment. Not only is there no attempt by any of the four brass men involved to Roy Eldridge-like blow his partner out of the picture, but despite a congruence of instruments, neither instrument sounds remotely like the other.
One of innovative pianist Satoko Fujii`s many working groups, Kaze is a Gallic-Nipponese unit which pairs the pianist and her trumpet playing husband Natsuki Tamura –both Japanese – with two representatives of Lyon`s creative music scene: trumpeter Christian Pruvost and drummer Peter Orins. With five tracks, composed by Fujii, Tamura or Orins, extended techniques from all concerned are used to advance a program of high quality modern sounds.
Sounds and extended techniques are the root of Live in Ljubljana as well. A century removed from mainstream Jazz, New York trumpeters Nate Wooley and Peter Evans can play in the tradition, but spend most of their time using brass impulses as sound design sources, in this case adding Evans’ piccolo trumpet and Wooley amplifier to the mix. While the drum power via American Jim Black and Briton Paul Lytton is twice that of Tornado, a chordal instrument is lacking, plus further wave forms arrive via Black’s electronics. Accordingly abstract improvisation is the order of the day with two lengthy tracks entitled “Beginning” and “End”.
Because of the Live in Ljubljana line-up, individual identification is practically impossible. The acoustic percussion for instance is devoted mostly to disconnected notions which austerely wipe drum tops or singly strike cymbals. Added as an intermittent ostinato is a sizzling, electronic process that suggests amoeba-like quivers. On top of the continuum, the trumpeters squeeze, spew and suck miniature and mutilated split tones from mouthpieces and valves. Despite the wispy pops and agitated pig-snorting that occasionally surface, the narrative remains balanced enough to eventually solidify as a protoplasmic mass which is a much electro as brassy. Each track reaches an appropriate climax. “Beginning” is completed when one’s horn’s alp-horn-like echoes and the other’s contemplative tremolo flutters blend as a concentrated drone. “End” ends as a race into high-pitched hide-and-seek chase between the two brasses is brought up short by metronomic drum patterns. The coda exposes an even sparser sequence which culminates with what sounds like “Taps” deconstructed as both explore their horns’ innards.
As compositional as it is improvised, Tornado balances its trumpet shenanigans with poised story telling from the pianist and dedicated swing drumming. On “Wao” for instance, Fujii uses positioned glissandi to wring a linear melody out of Daffy-Duck-like slurping and whistling from the brass men with the same ease in which a pseudo-romantic keyboard exposition corrals the same trumpet pumps into some canny harmonies.
Even more representative are two tracks composed by the pianist, “Triangle” and the title tune. On the latter Fujii’s keyboard skills both prod and bolster the trumpeters from outputting pressurized and valve-splitting textures into creating notably sympathetic swing that takes in heraldic gestures and Spanish tinges. She builds this bridge with spectacular pianism that instinctively moves from a sardonic variant of “Chopsticks” to internal piano harp smack and plucks when needed.
Sporadically as abstract as Wooley’s and Evans’s work is on the other CD, Tamura’s and Pruvost’s split tone brass waves are propelled from multiphonic acrobatic and clownish excesses to processional parallelism by cunning links from the pianist and Orins. As outgoing with scene-setting rim shots and bangs on this piece as he is reticent on “Tornado”, Orins also demonstrates how rhythmic fulfillment can result from concentrated on a buoyant beat without involving thick or hard tones. Meanwhile Fujii’s somber percussiveness sweeps the horns’ crying triplets and show-off staccato spews into a straightforward theme which bonds as it exposes appropriate excitement.
In the end the watchword that unites both these two high-quality sessions is cooperation. And the fascination lies in observing how each achieves it.