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V/A - Labor CD

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Artist: V/A

Album: Labor CD

Label: Charhizma

Review date: Mar. 24, 2004

Every good, lasting music scene needs at least one nurturing venue. This two-disc set – one audio disc, and one video – contains 21 different contributions from musicians associated with Berlin’s performance space KuLe (and in particular with its Monday series Labor Sonor). The opening track comes, fittingly given the number of key participants, from the collective Phosphor – a large ensemble whose 2001 release for Potlatch confirmed their superb abilities in the electro-acoustic region of improvisation. This is a snippet from their 2002 set at the Musique Action Festival, where the hissing electronics of Ignaz Schick and Andrea Neumann’s inside-piano blends with winds (Axel Dörner, Robin Hayward, Alessandro Bosetti), strings (Annette Krebs, Michael Renkel), and Burkhard Beins percussion. The great Beins is also on the compilation’s penultimate track, which finds him with Serge Baghdassarians (guitar, mixing desk) and Boris Baltschun (sampling) for a fabulous piece that recalls Beins’ work in the trio Perlon(ex). If only the whole compilation were on this level.

Andrea Ermke’s solo sampler piece, “Fish in a Box,” is a bit too dogged in its attention to specific sounds, and seemed underdeveloped. Clarinetist Gregor Hotz and drummer Rut Waldeyer contribute a low point in their meandering, semi-funked up duet. But if you make it through those tracks you’re treated to an extraordinary clinic from tuba restructuralist Robin Hayward, whose five-minute guttural epic canvases sounds from just the bell of the massive brass instrument, layering his own voice with low farts and a crackling sound. Outlandish and outstanding (and keep a look out for an upcoming Hayward/Dörner duo release).

One of the real head-scratching tracks is “Sitting on a Desk,” a weirdly moody rock-tinged duet from Asi Foecker (voice and guitar) and Tony Buck (voice, guitar, sampler). I found myself similarly perplexed by Margareth Kammerer’s singer-songwriter stylings when paired with Dörner’s trumpet. Equally bemusing, but somewhat more successful is Christof Kurzmann’s g3 and omnichord accompaniment of Fernanda Farah (another vocalist/guitarist).

An altogether more provocative trumpet excursion is the brief, glitch-drenched piece from Sabine Ercklentz (who pairs very responsive electronics – possibly a program designed for live interaction – with the kind of playing one normally expects from Dorner). For fans of reeds (and clarinets in particular), the extraordinary duet with Kai Fagaschinski and Michael Thieke – a miniature symphony of extended, blended sounds like sine waves – is a real treat (and fans of the Absinth label’s Berlin Reeds compilation, as well as of Gebhard Ullmann’s slightly more jazz-based Clarinet Trio, will drool at this one). Even more abstracted is Alessandro Bosetti’s solo soprano saxophone track, where he explores the extreme textures and near silences for which he has become known (think Bhob Rainey, think Michel Doneda, hell, think of their Potlatch trio album!). Never rising above the dynamic level of heavy breathing, this may be the compilation’s most interesting piece, more for what it leaves unsaid than for what it says.

Even more focus on radical extended techniques can be heard from the trio NOM (drummer Merle Ehlers, guitarist Dave Bennett, and saxophonist Antoine Chessex), who stand at the intersection of somewhat conventional free jazz and non-idiomatic improvisation (of the 1970s British variety). Much of the drama consists in their odd juxtaposition of gestures: the ghost tones from Chessex against the koto-like picking of Bennett and the rough rubbed percussion of Ehlers. The video disc isn’t very consequential, mostly consisting of either very dodgy performance pieces or visual tours through the spaces (featuring several interviews with musicians). A dispatch from Berlin circa 2003, this compilation is uneven but in the end a rich insight into one of the important centers of improvised music today.

By Jason Bivins

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