Photo by ©Cristian Filippelli
LINER NOTES by Glenn Astarita
Rhythm on rhythm or perhaps the pace of different movements whether it’s walking on a city street and a jogger passes you, or a stray dog lumbers along and automobiles are speeding, well, the contrasting movements are common but markedly different. No one, thing, or animal has the same cadence but that’s normal. These scenarios could parallel the pulses created by Italian vibes master Sergio Armaroli and all-universe Swiss drummer Fritz Hauser. Essentially, the musicians’ rhythmic exercises are either performed in unison or surge onward with many similarities but seldom exactly alike. These aspects mimic life to a great degree but are not always presented in musical formats.
In many situations, the regularities of existence we experience are not always correlated with plain old vanilla musical forms, as some of the uninitiated populace might dismiss these occurrences/performances as free jazz. But does music need to sound exact and 100% orderly from these perspectives? Are there a Ten Commandments in music? Okay, if you're a skeptic then give this startling live set some serious listens.
Performed at the Angelica contemporary music festival in Bologna, Italy, and greatly benefitted by the superior recording process, you may be able to hear a pin drop as the audience appears to be mesmerized by the sonics and the artists’ multi-purposed course of action. The musicians use the inherent beauty of the Angelica moniker as inspiration via the aura that embodies the live gala.
Accolades abound for Hauser who creates solo programs for drums and percussion, performed on a global basis, involving architecture, theater, dance, ensembles, and soloists amid improvisational undertakings, and scoring Film music. Consequently, Armaroli’s broad palate includes chamber jazz affiliations with British free jazz drummer Roger Turner and radical American guitarist Elliot Sharp, and other luminaries who reign supreme as eternal futurists. Moreover, he seizes a holistic viewpoint as a conceptual artist, based on the "language of jazz" and improvisation as an extension of the concept of art. As a result, the duo’s combined vision on this follow-up to the album Structuring the Silence (2017) offers a surfeit of mind-bending rhythmical structures, in addition to the vibist’s radiantly enacted notes that append a multihued sheen to the ever-evolving plots.
Armaroli’s modeling and design impetus for “Structuring of Silence,” also appearing as the primary track here, is as follows: “Each single time bracket must be understood both as a transition to silence (in small italics) and as a transition to sound (in bold). These times/spaces must be graded and achieved during improvisation by listening to and immersion in the environment (ecological listening). The whole sound must be understood as a plot (texture) as an improvised counterpoint within times of sound and silence determined according to change operations. Dynamics is understood as a transition from sound to silence and vice versa.” Also, the notation for these scores include:
] = within brackets, in italics, from pp to silence; in bold, from MP to f. The duration is free and may even exceed the bracket. The sound material is free and determined by the chosen instrumental staff. The form is determined by listening.
Armaroli’s complex formatting and core sonic structures are partly influenced by the environment with no strict guidelines that demand whether a pre-conditioned back drop exists. So, the Angelica forum is one performing environment that yields beauty and grace, but other tangents or emotive sentiments help prepare the table along with the vibist’s other musical parameters. But the musician must be listening and not simply playing from a pure improvisational perspective. Thus, Armaroli’s formulations could loom as post-modern John Cage-like conceptions and with gaps in sound since Cage once said of his composition 4'33, “There’s no such thing as silence … You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third, people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.” Sure, silence in these literal terms do not transpire on this recording, yet Cage’s spin on this subject open a cadre of interesting propositions.
The musicians complement, shade, use space and flashes of silence perhaps as an equalizer, and for the audience in attendance to briefly reflect on the asymmetrical and unison progressions that are refreshed and renewed on both tracks. In effect, the artists’ simpatico is a major force, and vividly noticeable from the onset while instilling breathing room throughout, unlike many improvisational albums where unrelenting cacophony and cluttered frameworks rule the roost. But there is structure especially when the duo generates a melodic paradigm that may dissolve into a variation of previously stated mini-themes and chamber-like enlightenments. These aspects often signal a notion of huddling or quietly and silently regrouping.
The crystalline soundstage is a bonus and allows the listener to fully absorb these undulating narratives and the fragile inner workings via an ongoing construction process that never veers off the radar or degenerates into endless soloing maneuvers. There are times when the duo mimics a disparately moving cityscape with a hustle and bustle series of motifs that remind us how the rhythmic experience is not always uniform in our everyday activities and travels. Here, the musicians also paint idealistic panoramas as Hauser’s cymbal work shades Armaroli’s resonant notes on an intermittent basis to project calm, tranquility, and a sense of uniformity, but rarely becomes a commonality as they simulate the multi-act plays experienced in life.
Armaroli and Hauser transform their musicality into humanistic dialogues along with striking background vistas, turmoil, complacency, and many other virtues and circumstances. However, they can become argumentative, conciliatory, and probing: elements that change or mutate into other soundtracks for one’s psyche. Hence, they enact a tribal pulse on “Structuring the Silence” with gradual descents and bold accents. And they maintain a moveable current yet become change agents with false endings. As the artists' scope of attack also includes storylines that spawn a sense of entering mysterious environs where rhythmical attributes are barely detectable.
When digging into this presentation during several listens it becomes apparent and rather astonishing how only two men can seize your attention for lengthy durations of time. They conjure a microworld of enchantment by slowly obscuring colors or when Hauser uses some sort of percussive technique to emulate a bowed instrument and using his hands and sticks to change the pitch of his drumkit and tapping the sticks on the taut end of the drumheads -- near the rims. All contrasted by Armaroli’s kaleidoscopic phraseology, frequently re-engineered or throttled into reverse. As they cyclically implement their respective crafts in corresponding fashion. It is not about competition but perhaps an uncanny semblance of understated beauty, even when Hauser steers traffic from side streets onto highways with no speed limits due to his polyrhythmic outbreaks. Tides turn when the drummer’s regimented patterns coalesce with the vibist’s dainty voicings. In many ways, the artists cast a parable that beauty is like a spirit that cannot be seen, but only sensed.
Many improvisers might get stuck in a slugfest type vamp. Yet Armaroli and Hauser do solo in select spots that surface as mini vignettes within odd-metered cadences, although the drummer’s swinging solo towards the end of “Structuring The Silence," where the vibist comps and delicately eggs him on, are components that revert to the 'listen' aspect of silence, space and ecological implications. Intricacies, multitasking, and swapping rolls are other features that ingrain a symbiotic relationship, although the players intermittently enact a rough and tumble groove on “Angelica.”
Armaroli’s “Structuring The Silence” methodology is an ongoing process. Another factor includes customized musical notation, as each part has eight time-brackets. Besides, he advises that the performer “choose all different sounds with fixed characteristics (amplitude, tempo, overtone structure, duration, etc.) and nine elements: gestures, intention, words, and other suggestion(s), etc. Durations and dynamics are free. The sounds to be made are long and short or noticeably short. When performed as a Solo, for One Player, choose cymbals and/or drums. In essence, these processes are unorthodox by conventional standards, although many composers such as John Zorn and Butch Morris employed different role-playing methods or mutable modes for improvisational functionality. For example, Zorn’s Cobra composition is known as a ‘game piece’ since no pre-conceived series of musical events and reliance on cues for instructions are necessarily framed on what the respective musicians need to play. And Morris’ “Conduction” practices were aimed at directing his ensembles with his hands or a baton to impart directives for a multitude of outcomes, relating to pitch, dynamics, and silence among other core fundamentals or mutual understandings of “Conduction.”
Regardless of form and far-reaching visions that propel futuristic idealizations and theories, the duo maximizes its output from an improvisational stance complemented by an aesthetically pleasing panorama. With the passage of jazz and improv pioneers such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, and other notables, the global jazz front begs for novel ideas and applications that enable jazz-related genres and the totality of musical artforms to push forward. Armaroli and Hauser optimize this radiantly recorded outing with a poetic slant that becomes more prominent during repeated listens. At times they pursue a minimalistic trajectory with low-key snippets of improvisation, but the vibist’s dancing notes, even when the artists are playing within irregular flows, intimate a symmetrical storyline embedded into the big picture.
Armaroli’s lucid compositional constructs may come to light through trial and error, rehearsals, and in-depth discussions akin to a learning process before the musicians engage. Hence, his notations signify the core launching pad for the ensuing musical activities, although he affords performers the freedom to invent and explore, which is a trait that is easily discernible throughout. Ultimately, it’s much more than a free-form exercise in expressionism or a sequence of sentences that circumnavigate a primary theme. Thus, it’s an ongoing process that is remarkably tangible and quite addictive, as the musicians’ holistic interplay yields many rewards, including their meticulously etched micro themes, disciplined structural detours, and a highly entertaining form-factor that is not always consistent or in-place with creations of this ilk. Overall, they merge the best of many ultramodern musical worlds on this fascinating voyage.
Glenn Astarita: AllAboutJazz.com
PHOTO BY ©Cristian Filippelli
Performed at the Angelica contemporary music festival in Bologna, Italy, and greatly benefitted by the superior recording process you may be able to hear a pin drop as the audience appears to be mesmerised by the sonics and the artists’ multi-purposed course of action. Fritz Hauser is world-famous for creating solo programmes for drums and percussion, performed on a global basis, involving architecture, theatre, dance and film music. Armaroli’s broad palate includes chamber jazz associations with British free jazz drummer Roger Turner and radical American guitarist Elliot Sharp, and other luminaries who reign supreme as eternal futurists.
This CD, recorded live at the Angelica music festival in Bologna, Italy, is similar to that of Brandon Seabrook and Simon Nabatov’s disc which I just reviewed, but not identical. Here we have two master percussionists, one of whom plays vibraphone rather than his usual drums, involved in creating percussion patterns.
I specifically used that term rather than “music” in the strict sense because percussion is only a part of music, and when the tempo and meter are as amorphous and fluctuating as in this strange set it does not start the toes tapping or gladden the heart of the average listener.
Oh, no. This is a collection of challenging sounds spontaneously improvised. One of its challenges is simply to try to follow the “bouncing ball” as the rhythm morphs and changes, because little or nothing that Armaroli plays on the vibraphone is melodic. Had he chosen that route, this set may have been more appealing to the average jazz listener, but he did not.
Yet by choosing to play marimba and not another drum set, Hauser has created a foil for Armaroli in terms of sonority if nothing else. The sounds they produce do not move along at a steady pace, whatever the meter might be at any given moment; rather, they shift and change their shapes. Some of Hauser’s drum patterns, such as those beginning around the 9:15 mark in the first selection, are quite virtuosic, but for the most part he is less concerned with showing off his technique than he is with simply creating an interesting environment.
And interestingly, it is Armaroli who for the most part follows Hauser’s lead. I say this is interesting because, as the one playing the “melodic” instrument, you would think that he’s be the one to lead. Sometimes he does, but not often; generally, he is happy to let Hauser set the pace (whatever it is at any given moment) and just tag along. The one thing that Hauser does do with his instrument is to raise or lower the general pitch of the performance without actually playing anything resembling a melodic line. True, there are a few moments in which he plays a note sequence that moves up and down, but nothing that resembles a melody; they are just motifs. At around the 14:20 mark in the first piece, Hauser somehow makes legato sounds that resemble whale sounds. Without being able to see him, I’m not sure what he’s doing. Playing a musical saw?
The performance goes on and on, yet never becomes dull because the duo is constantly changing tempo and mood. For me, this disc was not a keeper, but I certainly found it fascinating.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
Due dei percussionisti più esperti e inventivi dell’avanguardia si sono trovati nel Novemebre del 2019 a Bologna, al Teatro San Leonardo nell’ambito della rassegna Angelica. Sergio Armaroli al vibrafono e percussioni e lo svizzero
Fritz Hauser sono qui in un concerto live registrato molto bene, in cui si coglie quasi l’atmosfera che si è creata intorno a questo evento insieme al pubblico degli ascoltatori. Gli strumenti che i due si sono portati dietro trovano una perfetta collocazione spazio-temporale sul palco, tutto si incastra perfettamente e vengono fuori idee che si sviluppano sul piano del ritmo, ma anche della melodia, quando Armaroli si trova alle prese con il vibrafono. I due richiedono attenzione e ripagano il pubblico con una musica fuori dagli schemi, ma comunicativa, che attira l’attenzione grazie alla capacità dei due di esprimere emozioni insieme ai loro ritmi, a volte ancestrali, a volte proiettate nel futuro per il modo eterodosso di approccio agli strumenti.
The audience is clearly enthralled throughout this performance; applause only arises at the end of a piece. You wouldn’t know they were there.
The paramount emotion between the artists is their empathy and each allows the other to respire. Yet each appears to be playing alone as they explore, independently, alternate rhythms which, oddly, seem to balance each other and even to produce something akin to melody. Yet that it is not.
The backgrounds to these two percussionists are worthy of comparison. Fritz Hauser produces programmes for solo drums and percussion and these are based around a variety of artistic forms, including art and architecture, dance, film and theatre. By contrast, Sergio Armaroli is closely associated with ‘chamber jazz’ which he explores with American guitarist Elliot Sharp, a dominant figure in the avant-garde / experimental music scene in New York and with the British free jazz drummer Roger Turner who has occupied a similar position on the scene here, notably with Chris Biscoe, Lol Coxhill and Phil Minton.
Armaroli has chosen to play vibes although drums would have been more usual for him. Choosing vibes might have led him towards more melodic exploitations, but thankfully this did not happen and we are treated instead to an exquisitely fine performance of alternative, avant-garde and articulate music.