Elliott Sharp/Frances-Marie Uitti: Peregrinations

Peregrinations

Free improvisation can be many things: challenging, abrasive and meandering among them. This spontaneous act of creation between Frances-Marie Uitti (cello) and Elliott Sharp (Dell’Arte Anouman acoustic guitar and soprano saxophone) is none of those things. Rather, it’s welcoming, cartographic and focused. Sharp has always had a tactile approach to the guitar, one that emphasizes skin and organs alike and which embraces natural resonance as a portal to understanding the mathematical certainty of decay. The same could be said of Uitti, who digs into her cello as if it were a plot of land and pulls up every root around which she can curl her fingers.

In “Avior,” the relationship between these two signatures is so complementary that one almost feels a new strand of archaeology at play. Not in the sense of tearing up sacred land for the bastion of science, but of letting the past speak for itself. Thus, when Sharp sheds the guitar for a soprano saxophone in “Ainitak” and “Algieba,” he invites an earthen language to rise to the surface. In tandem, Uitti renders her instrument a giant ear to capture those utterances before they fade.

Given that in the past Uitti has been mislabeled a mere provider of drones, this reviewer challenges any listener to discover anything but complex shades of meaning in her sound. In that respect, both musicians are translators of energies that could otherwise go unacknowledged. Sometimes, as in “Mizar,” Uitti brightens the foreground while at other times, as in “Mintaka” and “Arcturus,” Sharp wraps us in the garland of a minstrel’s weathered muse. And while it is tempting to label their music as cathartic, in these times of distance one can’t help but read it as a form of proximity.

As organic as it gets.

(This review originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)

The Globe Unity Orchestra: Intergalactic Blow (JAPO 60039)

Intergalactic Blow

The Globe Unity Orchestra
Intergalactic Blow

Toshinori Kondo trumpet
Kenny Wheeler trumpet
Günter Christmann trombone
George Lewis trombone, effects
Albert Mangelsdorff trombone
Bob Stewart tuba
Gerd Dudek flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Evan Parker soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone
Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky flute, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone
Alexander von Schlippenbach piano
Alan Silva bass
Paul Lovens drums
Recorded June 4, 1982 at Studio 105, Radio France/Paris.
Recording engineer: Jean Deloron
Mixing engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Thomas Stöwsand

Beginning in 1966, the Globe Unity Orchestra sparked a four decades-long run that intersected with the JAPO label on three counts. For this, the group’s second for ECM’s sister label, founder Alexander von Schlippenbach hand-selected a set of free improvisations emitted in a Paris studio in June of 1982.

Even more noticeable this time around are the contributions of its brass players, especially trumpeters Kenny Wheeler and Toshinori Kondo (who takes the place of Manfred Schoof from the last record). Their methods of integration on the opening track, “Quasar,” set a tone that is dashed as quickly as it is established. From the farthest reaches of inner space, the musicians work their way to the front altar of the mind, where Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky’s baritone files its utterances in living order. Tuba (Bob Stewart) and piano (von Schlippenbach) speak out of time—one from the future, the other for the past. Such is the ethos of the hour.

Even at its densest, Globe Unity makes sure to leave a door open for even the most transient listener, so that “Phase A” and “Phase B” feel no more connected by name than they are by process. It is their very incongruity that partners them in the album’s grander scheme, interpretable only after the fact. Their gestures are more jagged, turned from shining to brilliant by Evan Parker’s unmistakable soprano. Like the group as a whole, he takes rising levels of intensity as opportunities for sane reflection, thus allowing himself the strongest benefit of performance: being heard.

Drummer Paul Lovens is another master in this pool of many, adding to the 19-minute “Mond Im Skorpion” a scripture’s worth of microscopy. Amid this bramble of riffs and utterances, he treats every melodic branch as a fuse to be lit, and every lit fuse as a pathway toward new understanding of the improviser’s craft. Von Schlippenbach is again noteworthy for attuning to that same inner habitus, an environmental assemblage where one has to know where one has been in order to move toward the unknown. For even as reeds and brass elbow the horizon with the force of sunset, they hold the following morning in their chests. A snake-charming soprano seems to mock the wayward Orientalist who sees travel solely as a means of sticking another postcard in the scrapbook. Indeed, you will find no tourists here—only the artisans selling their wares on the outskirts of town, far from the crowded bazaar, where a cacophonous ending sings, proclaims, and teases every tether of dusk so that it might pull out another day from under our feet.

Globe Unity keeps everything clear and, thanks further to Thomas Stöwsand’s flawless production, ensures that every shout is also a whisper, and vice versa.