Vertrek Ensemble

Very Strange Crisp

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Many sessions of free improvisation were recorded in the year 2003; at few of these events was it probably as cold outside as it would have been on a February night in Calgary, Alberta. The latter Canadian province's Arrival label issued a series of CD documentations during this period capturing several combinations of players who from the sound of things managed to shake the frost out of their fingers. Tenor saxophonist Darren Williams is part of a trio on Very Strange Crisp that also includes a duet known as a group unto itself, Edmonton's Vertrek Ensemble. Combining a percussionist with a guitarist who doubles on cornet, Vertrek Ensemble is the sort of combination that always seems to be in the process of defining what it is supposed to sound like. This is none other than the true path for improvisers to stay on, at least according to a 2004 interview in The Wire with British guitarist Derek Bailey, with whom Vertrek Ensemble has also performed and recorded. Over the course of three pieces, the titles lifted from poet Kenneth Rexroth, Williams joins in on this transformation of communal sound. Then it is all over, the artists having decided to make the CD consist solely of what seems like an entire set, just shy of 40 minutes. That could be perceived as a drawback, denying listeners the opportunity to experience the work of the trio in more depth. As usual this type of complaint is more about the international listening audience who might only hear this group on CD, not the Alberta improvisation scene crowd that will hear them again and again, in this and in another varied combinations. Despite a title alluding to moonlight, the opening piece sounds more like things being dragged in and out of a room -- furniture, corpses, bags of ivory, you name it. It is a typical gambit from these kinds of players, the musicians holding and apparently stroking and blowing into what look like normal musical instruments but skirting broadly around anything that sounds at all normal. So-called normal musical sounds come later, Vadim Budman uncorking his cornet and Ron de Jong playing his snare as if demonstrating its timbre for normal people in a music store. The three pieces map individual as well as ensemble developments as the group comes to grips with many possibilities. While the language Williams uses on the saxophone is not inherently personal, he wisely uses space and has a rhythmically charged presence, even when it sounds like he's grunting. Here's hoping they all got home without freezing their noses off.