Intervals - Solo Work for Woodwinds, 2001

Are You Be


The Fell Clutch

[Animul Records,]

I lost track of Ned Rothenberg's work around the time he released "Monkey Puzzle" - a duo with Evan Parker in the late 90's. Since that time, this multi-wind instrumentalist/composer has been busy running his label Animul and recording with a variety of ensembles.
In the liner notes to his solo album "Intervals", Ned Rothenberg says: "To a layman, the word interval has to do with time, the temporal distance between events. For the musician this translates to the sense of space in a piece and ultimately its rhythmic make-up, regardless of whether it is pulse-based. Of course, 'space' in music is not only silence, it is also the character of an interval between events of similar trajectory. For instance, a throbbing drone may sustain while high harmonics are sparsely layered on top of it. The drone serves both as a harmonic underpinning and the holder of the 'interval' between the higher gestures. Even continuous repetitive sections of cyclic playing can have space by virtue of changing intensity and placement of micro-thematic material." When you listen to Rothenber's first solo release in almost a decade, you get a specific sense the man knows his way around space. Especially on the shakuhachi, his idea of sound is to allow his instrument to breathe and take a rest when that's needed. Album's opener "Opening in the Wood" allows sound to flow freely, while allowing space to come into the foreground. He's no less successful on the bass clarinet. The momentous "Dancebreak" allows for some wonderful soloing, while retaining its full bass feel. Second disc of the set features Rothenberg on one instrument - alto saxophone. Just as he did with his other woodwinds, here he retains full control, without going overboard. On "T.C. (for Thomas Chapin)", he mourns his departed musician friend with full honours. As his alto soars new heights, the sound is balanced between a cry and a sob. Elsewhere, throughout "The Achilles Paradox", he uses circular breathing to enhance and propel the motion of his alto with clear purpose. One of the better solo woodwind recordings I'd heard in a long, long time.
"Are You Be" is the first release from the trio of Ned Rothenberg, guitarist/daxophone player Uchihashi Kazuhisa and percussionist/electronics guru Samm Bennett. Also known as R.U.B., the trio showcases world of possibilities of new music enhanced with electronics. What's even better is the use of the daxophone on this recording. Daxophone is a rarely used instrument that was invented by Hans Reichel around two decades ago. Uchihashi Kazuhisa is one of a handful of world-wide practitioners of this oddly shaped instrument. The sound that emanates from the daxophone is oddly warm and comical at the same time. Sure, Reichel has a terrific sense of humour, which rubs off on anyone who seriously treads in his footsteps as far as choice of instrumentation is concerned. Rothenberg's playing is in tune with his cohorts - massaging their rough edges one minute, while going along for the ride the next. Samm Bennett's electronic treatments fit right in with the crazed daxophone mayhem. Though there's much chaos happening throughout individual tracks, each member is still given ample room of their own to work with. End result is a ball of stop-and-go, jagged pieces that may be composed, though they do sound as if they're improvised outright. Rothenberg has played with guitarist/bassist Jerome Harris in the past. Most notably, his most effective work was with Ned Rothenberg's Double Band. "Harbinger" is the second release from Sync, which along with Rothenberg and Harris, prominently features tabla player Samir Chatterjee. The combination of tabla's drone-like qualities, along with acoustic steel-string and bass guitars make this a very relaxed session. In fact, the only ruckus that arises is due to Rothenberg's overzealous clarinet or alto blasts. When he blows his freely strung lines, it's as if he's trying to wake the other members of the trio from a state of comfortable sedation. The passages I enjoy the most are ones where Rothenberg controls his forceful bursts and the band plays in unison, rather than against the grain. The loveliness of "Kashmir" can't be over-emphasized. Its tranquil melody, supplanted by Rothenberg's heavily romantic alto melody which is helped out with the persistent hollow sound of the tabla is magical.
The latest offering from Ned Rothenberg's Animul imprint is "The Fell Clutch", which features a quartet made up of Rothenberg on woodwinds, Stomu Takeishi on fretless bass guitar, drummer Tony Buck, along with Tronzo on slide guitar, and Joe Williamson on bass on one track. The resulting concoction is a mix of the tranquil, the brave and the improvised. That's the key point actually as inside of the CD, the credits proudly announce that "all music spontaneously composed by the musicians". The sounds run the gamut between wild improvised passages to some quiet, even minimal moments. "Epic in Difference" is one such quiet moment, where Rothenberg dishes it out on bass clarinet with Tony Buck's delicate percussive shimmering [mostly, some fine cymbal work], while Stomu Takeishi creates a delicate strumming pattern on his guitar. Rothenberg's circular breathing techniques are put to good use as well. The addition of bassist Joe Williamson on the final track "Ashes" gives the band a much fuller, more complete sound. Interaction between all members of the group speaks for itself. These are all seasoned musicians with a highly developed musical language that transcends all boundaries. Another grade A release from Ned Rothenberg and the crew.

- Tom Sekowski

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