Duets, Dithyrambisch

Wolfgang Fuchs

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Duets, Dithyrambisch Review

by Thom Jurek

If a primer on the various timbres, textures, and tonalities that saxophones and clarinets can conjure when in duet with one another is what you're after, this double CD consisting entirely of such monsters should not only whet but also satisfy your appetite. During the 1989 Summer Music Festival in Berlin, audiences were treated to over two nights of various pairings of the four principals and their bevy of instrumental choices. This set is a live recording totaling 12 duets, with each man playing with the others three times. Horns are discarded and picked up again with alarming frequency in these improvisations, so it's impossible to discern what's being played: Is that a soprano? A sopranino? A tenor? Contrabass clarinet? Given how in your face these recordings are, timbral blur is imminent and frequent. The opening duel, er, duet is between Evan Parker and Louis Sclavis, both playing sopranos. "Pace Lace," clocking in at over 23 minutes, is a workout cutting through all the timbral dynamics the horn is capable of producing -- or so it seems. What starts out as a fast and furious cascade in the Parker style, with ribbon-like precision and endless repetition via circular breathing, moves into stuttered and staggered arpeggios and scalar exhibitions of mode and interval -- in Technicolor! Dynamics shift, then change, all on jagged edges of dexterity and tonal (or should we say atonal) inferences. Sclavis' 13-minute opus with Koch on bass clarinet "Strongly Weather (Wrongly 1)" is a study in textural opposites. Tempos alternate rapidly but never move into hyper-speed like they do in the "Wrongly 2" coda. With its clipped tonal universe, the clarinet offers the possibility for a universe based on an order of melody. On disc two the clarinet and contrabass clarinet of Sclavis and Fuchs are astonishing in the sheer varieties of tonal color and timbral variation they are able to produce -- not to mention the elongated melodic ideas that operate on a rotating breath basis between the two men. Next it's Parker and Koch, with Parker playing tenor for the second time on the set -- a horn he rarely lugs around with him. The tonal parameters he establishes with the larger horn are intimidating in improvisation with the soprano, but Koch uses an intervallic, rhythmic counterpoint to create overtonal strategies that move under and around the larger horn. When Parker reaches into the upper register of his saxophone and Koch descends to the lower of his, it is impossible to tell them apart -- they are elongating breaths and then right-angling everything into the sonic ribbon approach. In all, Duets is an arduous set, but one that is extremely rewarding for the patient listener -- who would be wise to take it a disk at a time rather than feeling the brain melt if attempting both discs at one sitting, ending up walking around for the remainder of a lifetime singing like a mutated bird. Awesome and terrifying.

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