Ken Waxman // JazzWord (22 septembre 2019)

Julien Desprez/Mette Rasmussen
The Hatch
Dark Tree DT 10

Ken Vandermark & Terrie Ex
Terp Records IS-30

Pairing a saxophonist and an electric guitarist alone for a program of intense improvisations on disc is conspicuous in its scarcity. But these duos take up the challenge fearlessly and each disc reveals exactly what can be created. Interestingly enough, natives of four separate countries are involved on both CDs. The Hatch features seven sound explorations from French guitarist Julien Desprez, who has played with figures such as Rob Mazurek and Eve Risser and is matched with Danish alto saxophonist Mette Rasmussen, who has recorded with Chris Corsano and Dre Hocevar. Scaffolding on the other hand stages 10 brief improvisations via the skills of Dutch guitarist Terrie Ex, part of the band of the same name and American tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Vandermark who has played with almost all of the most accomplished Free Music innovators.

Not content with the standard architecture of their respective instruments, Desprez and Rasmussen start off immersed in extended techniques and go on from there. For example the guitarist’s consistent low-pitch vibrations often add a patterning continuum to the proceedings even when he’s almost simultaneously deconstructing the lines with flanged echoes and distorted fingering. For her part the saxophonist avoids any melodic delicacy, choosing to anchor her outbursts in smeared triple tonguing with dot matrix printer like speed, overbearing honks or dog whistle-pitched screeds. Despite this both straddle expositions and keep the piece ambulatory.

A track such as “Clay on Your Skin” features thumping frails from Desprez, reminiscent of psychedelic freak-outs while Rasmussen’s broken chord playing is mostly spetrofluctuation with vocalized mumbles and grumbles audible from within the horn’s body tube. Many other tracks deal with variations in overblowing however, as on “Black Sand” where jarring, billowing timbres brush against throbbing guitar pulses. Including a spectrum of positions for key percussion and tongue slaps, horizontal connections for the two come via single string picking. The textural variables and variations from both instruments continue all the way to the final track, which in itself appears to be a horizontal sequence characterized by almost unbroken blowing, colored by open-handed string smacks with maracas-like shakes.

Still the most distinctive avant-rock-Free Jazz meld is “Matters of the Soul”. The theme is built up from the guitarist’s echoing delay mixed with metallic twangs and string crunches, while the saxophonist’s contrapuntal response moves from the near-chalumeau register corrosive note sprays to atonal screams as her vibrations attain higher pitches. When Rasmussen attains multiphonic glossolalia, the guitarist reaches the same point of ecstatic textures with unending, unvarying noise.

If The Hatch offers chapters in a novella, then Scaffolding is the equivalent of a short story collection with the longest track less than six minutes and most in the two or three minute range. Still there’s space for Ex to express broken-octave counterpoint encompassing over-amped crunches, continuous strumming that gets more metallic as it unrolls, and frails that come from every part of the fretboard. Most attuned to Jazz’s lineage of all the players here, Vandermark propels sympathetic and syncopated timbres from the first track onwards. These take the form of peeping clarinet slurs in response to Ex’s knob-twists on “This Is Not Han’s Pipe”; relaxed chalumeau puffing on “Herring”. Playing tenor saxophone, Vandermark’s reed bites, create an angular melody framed with string strums on “Attic Group” or match cinched picking from Ex with un-circumscribed split tones and squeals on “Second Hand Diary”.

Lengthier tracks such as “All the Numbers across a Danish Car” find Ex turning up his amp to create unique percussive fills with those pummeled tones contrasting with Vandermark’s staccato and strident whistles that fill in narrative holes. Defiantly “New Paper” includes reed vibrations that accelerate from whines to speaking-in-tongues extensions. The output is finally melded with Ex’s reverberating string clacks to take both instruments beyond their expected ranges but without upsetting the sequence’s flow.

Each disk demonstrates that duos can animate a session without additional help, as long as the right improvisers are involved.

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