Short stories (2005)
Evan Parker & September Winds
Peter A. Schmid (bass Eb clarinet, tubax, taragot)
Evan Parker (soprano & tenor saxophone, tubax)
Hans Anliker (trombone)
Reto Senn (bass)
Jürg Solothurnmann (soprano & alto saxophone)
LEO Records 428
'Four years ago we did our first recordings - for the Double-CD September Winds (CWR 1038/39) - in an empty water cistern with - among others - one piece lasting almost one hour. In 2002 a concert was recorded live in a church in Erlenbach, Switzerland, and released on Leo Records: Alder Brook (LR 379). These three CDs are documents of our instant wind compositions in very special acoustic and architectural places. For this production we chose a quite different concept: very short pieces recorded in a studio: Short Stories. The sequence of these short stories is a suggestion, but we encourage the listener to go through other sequences by choosing the RANDOM function of the CD player.'
Peter A. Schmid, December 2004
Brevities (Liner notes by Stuart Broomer)
Short Stories represents a special discipline for September Winds - compressing the complex interaction of a collective improvisation into a brief span of time. It's a sharp turn from the group's previous projects in that each was specifically concerned with space. It's evident in the previous CDs - wo discs recorded in the hyper-resonance of an empty water cistern, the last recorded in a church - but it's also true of the group's live performances. Jürg Solothurnmann has written an illuminating history of the group - 'September Winds - Moving Space-Improvisations' that details its environmental emphasis: 'Until now the group appeared in churches, museums, expositional and industrial halls, covered inner courtyards of buildings with several stories and even in the thermal bath of Vals (Grisons, Switzerland).' They have also performed with a kind of choreography in which the musicians move through the performance space. While this has stressed the spatial aspect of the group's music, often using highly reverberant space to expand the music with echoes in both space and time, Short Stories represents a radical departure, as much for the relatively dry sound of a recording studio as the determined brevity of the pieces. What is concentrated here is time, which further highlights the quintet's exceptional sense of form. Peter A. Schmid, who originally organized the group and who takes responsibility for organizing the music in advance, had long conceived of a CD of short pieces and the title Short Stories. He shared the concept with the other members of the group prior to a tour of six concerts in six nights (no normal concert halls, but museums, fabric halls, an old brewery). This recording took place on the day following the tour. While these short pieces sometimes sound like highlights of more extended improvisations, the pieces aren't edited, but are the results of multiple takes. The result, I think, is very similar to the process of multiple takes in more structured improvisational settings. Patterns may emerge, less interesting approaches are jettisoned, ideas are developed more fully, though their genesis may no longer be explicit. Time (and form) is now compressed in the group's methodology rather than expanded. These are taut, individual constructions, their individual autonomy stressed in Schmid's suggestion that the listener use the RANDOM function on the CD player.
According to Peter Schmid, the materials for the pieces assumed four, sometimes overlapping, categories:1. Instrumentation, as in 'blackbones' and 'woodbones' or 'heavy metal' (titles chosen after the recordings) in which the clarinets combine with the trombone (in the first two) or the saxophones combine with the trombone.
2. A "semantic" grouping, in which someone suggested words or short verbal phrases. The pieces were played immediately and mostly without further discussion. Afterwards it was often very interesting to see/discuss/hear how those words led the musicians to different musical things those words led the musicians. For example, 'Moorhuhnjagd' is a very popular PC game (in Switzerland and Germany) where you can shoot moorhens and they make noises not too far away from our little music piece. 'Ungeziefer' is a German expression for vermin, nasty little insects crawling around. Here they're hunted by a larger insect, the trombone. The idea for this piece with this preconception came spontaneously from Jürg during our recording session.
3. A group of sequence pieces, in which who plays with whom and when (and perhaps what) is predetermined. 'Anton au gare' is a series of pieces that we played the evening before the recording during a concert at Basel's Gare du Nord. There the whole concert was structured by fixing five sequences of Quintet > Solo > two musicians joining the solo player > duo > Quintet. During the concert every sequence lasted between ten and fifteen minutes. In the studio we took these five sequences and did very short versions due to the album concept "short stories." I don't remember who then suggested the definitive title 'Anton au gare'.
4. Musical concepts/compositions with fixed/restricted musical parameters. For example, 'Echoes and Shadows' has very soft sounds with a lot of air. 'Lower Westside' uses lower pitches, including the tubax. 'No MPs!' are two pieces where the preconception was to play our instruments without mouthpieces. In German "MP" is also the well known abbreviation of "machine gun."
What's most fascinating about the process Schmid describes is the relationship between preconception and result. The 'givens' or 'restrictions' in these pieces are not necessarily the things you will notice first, last or most in listening to the ultimate realization. While the directions may focus instrumentation, a sequence of voices, timbre, pace or density, they don't dictate melody or line or the interaction of pitches, which are the areas in which this group is most creative, most interactive and most finely attuned. A persistent illusion in September Wind's music is that the music is 'written', although that is clearly not the case. What the 'arrangements' actually do may have contrasting effects, depending on the individual improvisers, none of whose processes are ever identical. Some may concentrate on the 'given', allowing unconscious processes to engage freely; others may rapidly absorb the given, to concentrate on line. A special dimension is given to interaction, because 'invention' is no longer concentrated on those elements that are given. There is a special relationship with time developing here, perhaps most apparent in the pieces Taragotic VI and IV. The shenai-like wail of the horns immediately suggests the hypnotic mode of Indian music, but it's here achieved without extended duration, as a sudden and blissful state. Extraordinary, too, are pieces like 'Foghorns' and 'Insects' in which the mimetic dimension is so suddenly achieved that real relational development occurs in their brief spans. September Winds is a group of rare dimension. Jürg Solothurnmann remarks that 'I believe the quintet is a lucky strike. Five years ago we met within a larger workshop of professional musicians in Zürich, and later Peter had the idea to reunite the five of us. We are quite different persons (some introvert, some eloquent and outspoken) but get along together very well. I played before with many free improv groups and know the usual pitfalls, but there was never an ego problem in this group. The chemistry is nearly perfect.' That chemistry is everywhere here. It emerges in high relief in the individual routes of the 'Anton au gare' sequences. The saxophonists, Evan Parker and Jürg Solothurnmann, seem to make explicit reference to jazz traditions, whether it's just a passing phrase, a certain rhythmic emphasis or timbre. The clarinetists, Peter A. Schmid and Reto Senn, seem closer to the timbres and phrasing of European art music (except when they play taragatos, and then the allusions are Eastward, to Eastern Europe, the near-East and on to the Indian sub-continent, where they converge with the soprano saxophones). As with so much else here, Hans Anliker seems to mediate these approaches, his shifting, inspired sound ranging from the bell-like clarity of Alpine air to the vocalic smears and burrs of jazz tradition.
It's a startlingly hilarious blend of Boulez and jungle-era Ellington, the opening chromatic saxophone flourish and succeeding cadenza, dripping with vibrato and 1930s nostalgia, being complimented by growling muted trombone. A poignantly climactic moment of 'harmony' drives the point home, and like many of the other tracks, this one simply stops, the space between pieces becoming as important as the music. The longest piece here is about five minutes, the shortest - also the last - is a 44-second romp through serialized Dixieland again, appropriately entitled 'Fresh Ending'. It is just that, but I was left wishing for more. This disc is tons of transcendental fun, impossible to absorb but never unapproachable, and I'm left hoping for a sequel (Marc Medwin, One Final Note NYC)
September Winds' records always make for inviting listening, but brevity seems to have honed their chops even sharper. Short is definitely sweet on Short Stories (Christian Carey, Splendid Magazine Online)
...eine für mich kaum möglich gehaltene musikalische Dichte, die eine Komposition in der heutigen Zeit einfach haben muss, um merkbar zu werden. Gleichsam die Essenz aus einer Art musikalischer Destillation. Dabei spielen Kontraste, instrumentell und klanglich, eine besondere Rolle. Die wie aus einem Guss wirkenden Stücke sind aber nicht notiert, sondern haben trotz ihrer Kürze keinen Wiederholungscharakter, können also an anderer Stelle durchaus anders klingen. Das Zusammenwirken der klanglich so kontrastreichen Bläserinstrumente scheint derartig perfekt und konturenreich, dass in einigen Stücken binnen kurzem fast hypnotische Momente einstellen, die indische Musik, europäische Klänge und vor allem frei-improvisierten Jazz nahtlos miteinander verschmelzen lassen, ein Anliegen, dem sich Jürg Solothurnmann schon seit Jahren verschrieben hat (Ulfert Goeman / Jazz Podium, Deutschland)