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Goh Kwang Lee: Avalanche (2 CDs) (Herbal International)

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  Ute Wasserman / Jaap Blonk / Michael Vorfeld 
  Improvisors  
  (Kontrans) 


  
   review by John Eyles
  2019-08-22
Ute Wasserman / Jaap Blonk / Michael Vorfeld: Improvisors (Kontrans)

Released on Dutch vocalist Jaap Blonk's own Kontrans imprint, this album is part of the label's ongoing "Improvisors" series which began in 1996 with a trio combining Blonk with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and percussionist Michael Zerang. Releases in the series all include Blonk himself in a duo, trio or quartet with others. The discs are easily spotted as each cover is dominated by a large coloured circle which bears the word "improvisors" (split up in subtly different ways imp/rovi/sors, here) worn unashamedly, like a badge of honour. The current release is the seventh in the series; the fact that it has taken some twenty-three years to release those seven discs is an indication of the quality control at work; the series' roster of improvising musicians reads like an improv Who's Who. It is fitting, therefore, that two renowned Germans, vocalist Ute Wasserman and percussionist Michael Vorfeld, join Blonk in a trio.

In many ways, the choice of Wasserman seems an obvious one as there are similarities between her improvising style and Blonk's, both being instantly recognisable within a few seconds of opening their mouths. In addition to conventional singing or recitation, each of them employs a wide range of breaths, vocal and guttural effects combined into an articulate, free-flowing stream of sound. Wasserman augments the sounds she makes with a range of whistles which imitate animals and other sounds; Blonk uses electronics to accompany and complement his vocal sounds. Given the different pitches of their voices, there is little chance of being unable to attribute a particular sound, so their two voices can overlap and intertwine without confusing listeners. Interactions between the two display sophisticated listening skills and they frequently combine in various ways including call-and-response passages and imitation of one another. Together, the two effectively give a master-class in augmented vocal improvisation.

While Blonk and Wasserman would have made a stunning duet, the addition of Vorfeld was an inspired move. Although he features in the spotlight less than either of the vocalisers, his supporting role ends up being just as important as theirs; his occasional solo interjections provide a contrasting third sound that prevents the soundscape being too similar for too long; occasionally he subtly supplies rhythmic nudges when the two voices veer too close to free-form territory. The trio ends up being a conversation of three equals, with its success depending equally on all three participants.

Recorded in Berlin in March 2018, the album runs for fifty-five minutes and contains thirteen tracks, ranging in length from just over a minute to nine-and-three-quarter minutes, giving the music enough change and variety to keep it sounding fresh, time after time. A truly uplifting listen.



Ute Wasserman / Jaap Blonk / Michael Vorfeld: Improvisors
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