In his always insightful notes, Brian Morton chooses breath as the point of focus around which he discusses these improvisations by vibraphonist Sergio Armaroli in the company of trombonist Giancarlo Schiaffini, vocalist and trumpeter Phil Minton and percussionist Roger Turner. Yes, breath is paramount to the winning combination of whimsy, wisdom and virtuosity expected from this assemblage, and it plays one of the subtlest roles imaginable on the very first and fairly brief improvisation. Amidst Turner and Armaroli's interplay, Minton draws breath, a couple times only, but the gesture is as poignant as any he has ever committed to tape. Like those Samuel Beckett vignettes Morton evokes as indicative, a whistle, tone or pithy tintinnabulation can speak volumes.
This overarching concern leads me to think not so much of breath as of size. When we hear a voice like Minton's, which regularly emits multiphonics, the entire hierarchy depicted by any perceived grouping of forces is obscured, even irradicated. Each musician in this supposed quartet accomplishes similarly defiant modes of perception-bending. Vibes and trombone combine tonal felicities, or maybe the same thing happens between voice and trombone, both in multiphonic mode. Even a single pitch, like the one Minton emits as "Dream I Was a Laysure" slides and sputters into focus, rings with overtone as wah-wah trombone and percussive shades swim and pulse around it.
So what sort of an aggregate is this anyway? Are we hearing duos, or trios, or the ideal quartet in the tightest chamber-music focus? Of course, the correct answer is: all of the above. That wonderfully diverse thing that we used to call European free improvisation has morphed into and beyond its components. Sonic atoms jump and punch, vying for prominence while beneath and around them, note and drone define and elongate the spaces they never quite fill, so beautifully transparent is the playing. Of course, the fact that several partnerships are long-nourished, especially Minton and Turner's ever-fascinating ventures, but if this superb quartet has recorded together, I've never heard it. It should go without saying, given the label, that the recording is equal to any of the music, full and transparent when necessary. As the ensemble grows, morphs and fades, each detail is foregrounded without any sacrifice of ambiance. Beyond all that, it's great fun, right down to the track titles!
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