Tag Archives: Urs Leimgruber

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

Cologne’s Loft is a venue where very good things usually happen when improvising musicians perform. This stellar duet between sax maestros is no exception: recorded in 2007, it features Parker on soprano and Leimgruber on tenor, exchanging darts of creative thinking with a mixture of snappy commitment and no-nonsense technical facility, prowess made explicit in every minute of this CD. Three extended segments revealing a whole cosmos of nuances that will make the students of the instrument aware of a depressing perspective: in fact, they might never arrive to certain heights decades of practice notwithstanding, in a classic case of “some folks got it, some folks don’t”. However, the sheer act of listening – both for them and non-reedist audiences – remains a challenge that brings numerous moments of pure excitement. In 66 minutes I didn’t hear a phrase even distantly related with someone else’s style, despite the couple’s occasional resorting to quicksilver spurts of reciprocally echoic/imitative shapes in various parts of the set. Another attractive trait is given by the general comprehensibility of the contrapuntal components, regardless of a frequent trespassing of the overacute range. Articulate connectedness kept at full throttle, pushing the boundaries of fast-paced ability well beyond the average. As always, one would say, but still quite exhilaratingly for us, the lucky receivers of those swirling parallelisms.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Andrey Henkin

Alexander von Schlippenbach Trio – Bauhaus Dessau (Intakt)
Uwe Oberg/Evan Parker – Full Bloom (Jazzwerkstatt)
Evan Parker/Sten Sandell – Psalms (psi)
Evan Parker/Urs Leimgruber – Twine (Clean Feed)
Evan Parker  – Whitstable Solos (psi)
British saxophonist Evan Parker is just a few years away from his Jubilee Celebration as his country’s most celebrated jazz export. What has contributed to such remarkable longevity – particularly consideringhe inhabits the punishing avant garde sphere – is that he has been international in scope and omnivorous instyle since almost the very beginning. He’s a founding father or elder statesman in theory; in practice, he plays with the same curiosity as he did at the outset. His most stable outlet has been in a trio led by pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach with drummer Paul Lovens. Bauhaus Dessau, named for the German art center where this 2009 concert took place, is the latest in a mini-flurry of releases since 2003 by the group, which has existed for over 40 years, making itone of the longest-standing free-improvising ensembles in history. Few marriages last as long. And like a successful marriage, there is a delicate balance between knowing someone more than intimately and still being surprised by them. The three tracks, in descending lengths of 41, 12 and 9 minutes, featuring Parker solely on hefty tenor, both capture a particularly fine moment and represent a blip in their trajectory, a strange tension between history and ephemerality percolating with each moment. Three duos represent how Parker works in small groups of lesser pedigree than the Schlippenbach Trio. He maintains his personality but becomes magnanimous in how he applies himself. German pianist Uwe Oberg, 18 years Parker’s junior, firmly inhabits the world of European and international improvising Parker helped create. He is a far different player than Schlippenbach, often solemn and pastor also Parker’s tenor on Full Bloom sets aside some of its stridency for exultant beauty. Younger players looking for a sax tone to emulate should listen to this wonderfully recorded disc as a paragon. And since Oberg works in spacious, delicate movement, a kinder, gentler Parker emerges and details in his approach that might go unnoticed elsewhere are clearly audible.

Another pianist with whom Parker has worked with some frequency within the past decade is Swede Sten Sandell. He’s joined Parker’s trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton and both appear in drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s Townhouse Orchestra. For the aptly-titled Psalms, recorded in the North Sea-side town of Whitstable, Sandell is behind the St. Peter’s organ matched against Parker’s tenor. Sandell is to becommended for even being able to improvise on such an unwieldy instrument. The combination of floating organ and rich saxophone is an unusual one, often sounding alien or fit for piping into a Surrealist art exhibition. One would require a very progressive congregation to hear the piety in these searching, slow-moving pieces.

Twine is an odd entry into Parker’s discography. Not because it is a saxophone duo, a format he has visited intermittently, but because his partner is Swiss tenor and soprano saxist Urs Leimgruber. To the untrained ear and perhaps even the trained one, Parker and Leimgruber’s approach to their shared instrumentsis very similar: overtones, circular breathing, plangents quawks. Leimgruber’s career started about a decade after Parker’s and one imagines the older player was a great influence. As such, we have a very different interaction than Parker’s previous meetings with, say, Steve Lacy or Joe McPhee. Instead of two distinct voices or sharp color contrast, the pair explore almost 67 minutes of grey, tones and breaths floating by, over, under, through each other, less a conversation than a series of oblique echoes.

Parker is back in Whitstable for his 13th solo saxophone disc since he began exploring the format inthe late ‘70s. It has been remarked that Parker’s solo playing, especially on soprano as is found here, is one long improvisation across the decades. Certainly it is a connecting thread as Parker moves from blustery trio to large ensemble to duos to recent interest in electronics. His solo playing is like a chef’s signature dish, minutely altered and transmogrified over the years, a dash more spice here, a longer broil there. What makes this particular serving special is the acoustic profile Parker gets from the rural church, the partner with which he duets. Whitstable Solos is not adefining statement but another footprint in Parker’s long and fascinating journey.

Improjazz reviews by Luc Bouquet and Gary May

JazzWord review by Kan Waxman

Urs Leimgruber/Evan Parker – Twine (CF 194)
The International Nothing – Less Action, Less Excitement, Less Everything (Ftarri 219)
Setting up some of the most difficult interface imaginable here – two unaccompanied reed duos – are two veteran improvisers and two younger players all of whom manage to extract panoramic timbres from their respective instruments. One common strategy is to avoid harmonic unison in favor of broken octaves or double counterpoint tropes. The side-by-side variants revealed are particularly fascinating when both musicians are play saxophones in one case, or clarinets in the other.

Nonetheless sonic supremacy shouldn’t surprise in the case of British saxophonist Evan Parker and his Swiss counterpart Urs Leimgruber on Twine. Present at the birth of Euro Improv in the mid-1960s, Parker has maintained impeccable standards since then, working with other first generation players such as bassist Barry Guy and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach as well as a clutch of increasingly younger experimenters. A little short of a decade younger, Leimgruber was initially a members of the Fusion band OM, graduating in the 1980s to more abstract improvisations which he now specializes in, working with confreres ranging from French bassist Joëlle Léandre to German synthesizer player Thomas Lehn.

A generation removed from the saxophonists, the members of The International Nothing, German clarinetists Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke, are committed to pure abstraction, as well as more melody-based projects. Thieke, for instance, is a member of Dok Wallach, a Charles Mingus tribute band, and both play with singer Margareth Kammerer and electronic manipulator/vocalist Christof Kurzmann. Fagaschinski’s flirtation with restrained lap-top sounds also ally him with reductionist sounds. In fact while the Twine duo appears preoccupied with the energetic output of high-pitched, fortissimo and staccato timbres, the improvising on Less Action, Less Excitement, Less Everything – true to its title – slides and sluices around enervated tones, with the doubled tessitura sometimes masked by extended silences.

Occasionally reflecting the clarinets’ wooden properties, most of Fagaschinski’s and Thieke’s layered reed tones are solid and almost unbreakable. While chromatic and undulating, the double counterpoint is more moderato than agitato and except for bursts of forte shrilling, deftly expressed in mid-range tones. Polytonality abounds, with pitch vibrations occasionally taking on pipe-organ-like cohesion, and on every track, diminishing into near-inaudibility for a short period before a final variant bubbles to the sonic surface. Only rarely as well do the two lines separate either, with one becoming nearly mellow and the other sharply staccato.

“Crystal Clear Fog” is a fine example of this approach. Not only do the initial lines undulate in unison as they move infinitesimally up the scale, but one clarinetist manages to sound a grace note with almost trumpet-like in construction and another as if woodwind trills are refracting back from a piano’s innards. Eventually it appears as if the pressurized tones are constantly spilling outwards until they reach an almost lighter-than-air stasis. Following a short interlude of air being forced through two body tubes, harmonized reed chirping is mutated into strident chromaticism as the finale.

Despite this instance, the vast majority of the dual clarinetists’ timbres are gentle undulations compared to the extruded shrieks, peeps and jagged false-register runs that characterize the Parker-Leimgruber interface. Over the course of three lengthy selections, the two shift effortlessly from tenor to soprano saxophones, although it’s never clear which alternative is in use at any one time. Occasionally operating in lockstep, but more frequently like yelping dogs chasing one another, their circling timbres encompass an army of extended techniques. There are staccatissimo cries and reed bites, verbalized squeaks, lip smacks, flutter tones and tongue slaps, splayed textures and vector movements. If one player strays towards lyricism, the other’s response is splintered and staccato. And circular breathing is used to mark timbral shifts.

The two stretch their tessitura as early as “Twine”, and continue spluttering and squeaking with advanced circular tones and partially illuminated tinctures all the way to the final “Twist”. Sluicing and side-slipping into double counterpoint, with spaced puffs, honks and bell-muting tones definitely attributable to one nor the other, neither overshadows the other. Jagged reed bites taken fortissimo sometimes expose metal friction, while linear rows of ghost notes, key percussion and spetrofluctuation mirror, without copying, each other’s lines. Exhibiting the rhythmic power available from two reeds blowing at full force on “Twine”, the dissonance created by this furious overtone interplay implies additional lines then those from two sound sources. Eventually the vocalized and vibrating reed tones reach a peak of strangled cries and tongue slaps before slipping away to silence.

Meeting the doubled reed challenge in their own fashion, appreciation for each – or both – of these CDs depends only on the listeners’ preferences for pacing and dissonance.

Jazz.pt review by Pedro Sousa

Parker / Guy / Lytton + Peter Evans – Scenes in the House of Music (CF 196)

**** 1/2


Evan Parker / Urs Leimgruber – Twine (CF 194) ****

Evan Parker apresenta-se em plena forma nos dois discos agora editados pela portuguesa Clean Feed. O primeiro, “Scenes in the House of Music”, foi gravado ao vivo na Casa da Música no ano passado e conta com o já sobejamente conhecido trio que formou com Barry Guy e Paul Lytton, mas desta vez com a brilhante adição do virtuosíssimo Peter Evans. Se a música do grupo já soava densa e compactada, com Guy e Lytton a criarem uma massa sonora fragmentária e com Parker dando largas à sua linguagem abstracta e à sua inigualável habilidade para comunicar, a adição de Evans, um músico jovem e com perspectivas novas, consegue transportá-la para um patamar de maior frescura, escapando até às normais convenções da música improvisada.
Não que o Evan Parker Trio toque aqui de maneira muito diferente do que vem fazendo. O que distingue este álbum é o facto de a inclusão de um quarto elemento ter rejuvenescido as antigas fórmulas que vem perseguindo. Por exemplo, o solo de Peter Evans no início da segunda improvisação cria um espectacular momento textural, assim demonstrando a enorme capacidade do membro dos Mostly Other People Do The Killing para desenvolver conceitos e situações menos previsíveis. De facto, o trompetista sugere umas vezes a sonoridade da electrónica, e outras apresenta-se mais livre e “a rasgar”, por vezes fazendo mesmo lembrar um réptil em fuga. Todo o álbum cria momentos de alternância entre os intervenientes, permitindo o destaque e a sobreposição de várias ideias e apresentando um discurso colectivo muito bem oleado.
O segundo disco foi registado no ano de 2007, em duo de Evan Parker com Urs Leimgruber no Loft, de Köln, sendo uma sessão mais intimista. O seu particular interesse advém da dimensão hipnótica e quase demente dos desenvolvimentos. Ambos os saxofonistas se apresentam com o tenor e com o soprano, e fazendo justiça ao título, “Twine”, os músicos entrelaçam-se ao longo das três peças que compõem o CD. Aqui a linguagem é mais frenética, e não obstante as óbvias distinções entre os dois músicos, o mimetismo que conseguem é impressionante, partilhando ideias e timbres de tal forma que, em certos momentos, parece estarmos a ouvir apenas um saxofone ligado a um “delay” ou, quando as coisas aceleram, três ou mais instrumentos.
A música nunca perde fulgor nem muda de tom ou atmosfera, tornando-se tão densa que às tantas é impossível identificar os instrumentos utilizados e até os instrumentistas, ficando apenas um carrossel animalesco, abstracto e enérgico.

Gapplegate Music reciew by Grego Edwards

Evan Parker / Urs Leimgruber – Twine (CF 194)
Essentially Evan Parker has over the 40 odd years of his public career sought to perfect a style complex that makes use of punctuated sounds, rapidly swooping slurred lines, enveloped phrasings and expanded timbral resources for the saxophone. By now he can be relied on to do what he does very very well, every time out. His execution and concept are masterful. But his single-mindedness of purpose also means that some of the surprise in the music has become diminished. So he keeps it fresh by varying the players he associates with on any given project. His prolific recorded output would seem to demand such a stance. And this way of going about it gives the Parker aficionado a good deal of variety in the overall sound of the ensembles he consorts with.

So we have a new one, Twine (Clean Feed 194) which pits him in a series of involved improvisatory duets with fellow reedman Urs Leimgruber. Both alternate between the tenor and soprano. The recording was captured live in Koln.

First off Urs certainly seems well suited for such a duet. He has a long track record of avant improvisational collaborations and has a style that fits what Even Parker does from angular phrasing to a richness and variety of timbre.

Second of all the structure and content of the duets is one of all-over density and continual flow. They get rolling on a pace and set of sound producing ideas and stay in that mode for some time, seeking to explore the sorts of possibilities that approach will reveal.

The results are rarefied whirlwinds of sound. Parker and Leimgruber get locked in and stay there. Now the question is whether you would find this music stimulating and how much of this sort of thing you are interested in hearing. I cannot give you that answer. It is cutting-edge avant improv, certainly. If you already have, say, 100 Evan Parker recordings, this may not add a lot that is new to what you already have. If sound-color oriented improvisations interest you and you don’t have much exposure to the artists at hand, this is a good bet. If you like the idea of a bare-bones avant duet with two of the more successfully adventurous sax players out there, again this will be of interest.

Paris Transatlantic review by Michael Rosenstein

Urs Leimgruber / Evan Parker – TWINE (CF 194)
Parker’s reed duo canon is small but includes memorable sessions with Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, and Joe McPhee. Urs Leimgruber proves a worthy match on Twine across three extended improvisations. As might be expected, the playing is conversational, Leimgruber’s drier breathiness and more measured phrasing contrasting with Parker’s husky grace and mercurial flow. The two plait together sinuous exchanges with a keen ear for balance: as labyrinthine as the duos get, there’s no overplaying or mere showmanship. If anything, a certain sense of caution seeps in, as if the two are holding back a bit. While this CD may not be as gripping as the Sandell duo, it is still well worth the time of anyone interested in Parker’s music.

Le Son du Grisli review by Guillaume Tarche

Urs Leimgruber / Evan Parker – Twine (CF 194)
C’est dans une sincère « confraternelle du souffle » – et en un Janus plus abouché que bifrons – que se présentaient les saxophonistes (ténor & soprano) Urs Leimgruber et Evan Parker en ce début 2007, au Loft de Cologne.

Leur généreuse dépense, résolue, obstinée, prenait ce soir-là un tour particulièrement abondant : deux longs duos de ténors pour encadrer celui (tout aussi consistant) des sopranos, sur un terrain d’entente que le choix gémellaire des instruments ne fait que souligner – mais c’est vainement que les comparatistes songeront aux rencontres de Parker avec McPhee (Chicago Tenor Duets, Okka) ou Lacy (Chirps, FMP)…

On casse des bogues, on érafle des troncs, pépiant d’abord ; on roule ensuite des galets, mats, en pinçant le bec : agile, on injecte, on pique, combustion réciproque, échos d’autres échos, potlatch ! Sourdant çà et là des nuées de ce palimpseste continu, émergent des unités de souffle et de matières, des stéréophonies et des oracles, des ressacs et des miracles.

Point of Departure review by Stuart Broomer

Urs Leimgruber + Evan Parker Twine (CF194CD)
Urs Leimgruber – Chicago Solo (Leo CD)
The Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber has been active in free improvisation for several decades and he is a master of those things usually referred to as extended techniques – circular breathing, multiphonics, the use of key pads as percussion, and fingering and tonguing so rapid that either can suggest a nervous tapping on a telegraph key. That resemblance to a telegraph key is central for it suggests both the rapidity of thought and the movement outward, lines shooting out into open spaces already colonized by the prior (now simultaneous) flocks of birds and phantom oscillators present in Leimgruber’s soundscape. Some of the techniques were first developed or combined by Evan Parker and John Butcher, two fountainheads of solo saxophone technique, but that is strangely irrelevant here. Leimgruber has assembled, developed and mastered the elements of what is increasingly a central language of saxophone improvisation and he has been deploying it for his own distinct musical ends in a series of solo recordings over the past two decades. It’s not a language or a style until a group of people possess and use it, and Urs Leimgruber has his own voice, or voices.

Chicago Solo, recorded in 2009, invokes Evan Parker’s 1995 recording  (on Okka Disk) of the same name in which Parker first applied himself at length to solo tenor saxophone. It also invokes the Chicago milieu in which Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie and Anthony Braxton first gave regular voice to improvised horn solos, now a central form in improvised music. It is Leimgruber’s most developed solo statement to date. It consists of three pieces, entitled simply “One, “Two” and “Three.” “One” is an epic soprano solo, a voyage of 27’23” in which Leimgruber begins with tenuous high notes then gradually asserts his varied voices, which wander, explore, shift mood, combine, disperse and transform auditory terrain (there is an oasis of fluting bird sounds), all with a commanding interior logic.

In “Two,” a 19-minute tenor solo, Leimgruber transfers many of the same techniques to the deeper horn, though the effect of the piece is utterly different. It is as if the pieces of sound are breaking together, fragmenting into one another, thus rather than a line–a melody, even– breaking up into micro components, a phrase, a line, a sequence will suddenly arise out of the fragments and sonic wisps with which he works. This tenuous melody will launch another, more secure, arpeggiated and multiphonic line, and so on. Often the characteristic sounds of one of the saxophone’s zones will leak into the next like a sonic glance backward, a question about the meaning or even the presence of a relationship. 

The relatively brief “Three” return to soprano and an assemblage of high squeaks and quavering multiphonics. It may suggest a man testing doorbells for another dimension or a shakuhachi virtuoso summoning hypothetical birds.

Twine  comes from a duo concert recorded at The Loft in Köln in 2007 when Leimgruber and Parker were touring together. The two are extraordinary duo players as well as soloists and the music is often overwhelming in terms of the sheer complexity and rapidity of the interaction. It is frankly too dense to isolate or describe passages from either the two long tenor duos or the soprano duo that they bracket. I was reminded of the group Quartet Noir in which Leimgruber plays with Joelle Léandre, Marilyn Crispell and Fritz Hauser. One would expect, in even the subtlest hands that such a group would start to sound like the saxophone with rhythm section that it so clearly resembles visually. Instead it almost never sounds like one, because Leimgruber doesn’t assume the saxophone’s insistently foregrounded position. Instead he burrows into the music , his lines emerging through those of the bass, piano and drums, so that the result is an absolutely cohesive quartet music. He is a master conversationalist, much of which, of course, consists in getting other people to talk, or more appropriately in these situations, to go on, to elaborate, to get it all out. At times here the horns play together as a continuous outpouring of lines in which one will sympathetically echo the other, respond , cajole, cluck sympathetically. Often it’s musical dialogue played at such velocity and density that you’re never quite sure where statement ends and comment begins. Or, if it’s two soloists simply rushing on, how do they manage to be so alike, so attuned to one another’s time and lines? Twine is a very special performance (string, entwined, between, twins, the uniformity of rope).

All About Jazz review by Clifford Allen

At one point in time, the term “European Improvisation” meant something quite specific, carrying with it an air of otherness to American jazz audiences, solidarity to European jazz audiences, and presented rarified and sometimes unruly music based on folk, classical and open forms. In the ensuing decades, the world has grown a bit smaller, and intercontinental meetings and aesthetic mergers are commonplace, so much so that “European Improvisation” doesn’t quite mean what it once did. Certainly, the history remains and significant figures like pianist Alexander Von Schlippenbach, saxophonist Evan Parker, reedman Peter Brotzmann and many others remain quite active on the international performing and recording scene.

Urs Leimgruber and Evan Parker – Twine (CF 194)
Twine presents the duo of Swiss saxophonist Urs Leimgruber and English saxophonist Evan Parker on three improvised pieces for soprano and tenor, and while they’ve worked together previously this is their first recording as an unaccompanied pair. Though by the late 1970s it would seem that the two saxophonists’ work was extraordinarily divergent—Leimgruber’s playing was in the Afro-Near-Eastern free jazz group OM and Parker was firmly entrenched in non- idiomatic improvisation—yet both find a leaping-off point in John Coltrane and thus Twine is a place where conversation can begin and be expanded upon.

The title track, at 25 minutes, finds both players on tenor and while there is divergence in their respective sounds, the husky pilings of phrase and long lines of Parker meeting Leimgruber’s flintier charge perfectly complement one another. The recording doesn’t separate them strictly by channel, thankfully, allowing their sounds and phrases to merge and part with a demarked room-like sensibility and a natural unity.

At the disc’s start, Parker unfurls laconic phrases, eddying in tendrils that gradually shorten their spatial plane into condensed, crisp chordal pilings in response to the sharp staccato digs of Leimgruber’s shorter-distance runner. Thick, gritty honks are ornamented by wistful upturns and circular-breathed lines until both sputter in excitable dialogue, each elaborating on the other’s interpretation of vocabulary. Parker and Leimgruber are probably both better known as soprano saxophonists, merging the possibilities of a higher-pitched straight horn tonality and the depth of parsed chords with a bio-acoustical sensibility.

“Twirl” finds the pair wheeling in the wind, creaking and building a series of calls into whittling repetition, Leimgruber’s micro-view seemingly chipping away at a larger whole, while Parker more slowly and with significant detail encircles an already open expanse. It’s interesting to hear Parker past the point of revision—not to say he’s “comfortable,” but in this context he puts forth, quite simply, who he is and what he does, a la Ben Webster or Sidney Bechet. Complemented and abetted by Leimgruber’s methodical ornament, Twine is a beautiful disc.