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Christoph Gallio, Urs Voerkel & Peter K. Frey - Tiegel

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Artist: Christoph Gallio, Urs Voerkel & Peter K. Frey

Album: Tiegel

Label: Unheard Music Series

Review date: Apr. 13, 2007

Free improvisation demands, even gets its essence from, a certain kind of excess, an overflow of ideas generated in real-time. This excess is what allows improvisations to succeed – and causes them to fail. It produces scintillating moments, and it produces tedium. What it only rarely produces is what this 1981 trio recording of 13 improvisations has in spades – compositional unity and compactness without any loss of energy to chamber politeness.

It’s got the hazy swing and knotty dynamics of Jimmy Giuffre’s pioneering drummer-less chamber improvisation and the abstract dynamics research of classic FMP records. The trio atomizes sound like more stringent free improvisers, but also retains a skeleton of composition in the background. There’s also a sense of play in the air, as the instrumental combinations keep shifting, a quality perhaps attributable to the workshop atmosphere of its birth. Urs Voerkel doubles on piano and drums, Peter K. Frey moves between bass and trombone, while Christoph Gallio plays soprano saxophone throughout.

Each piece plumbs a bundle of ideas, staying within a certain range, but not to the point of rigidity. “#1” is pushed along by an unsteady approximation of the classic walking jazz rhythm. On “#4,” Voerkel lays down bursts of snare, cymbal exclamations and chattering rimshot patterns as a frame for the sputtering dialogue between Frey (on trombone) and Gallio. “#6” is a comic, competitive dialogue swerving from legato to staccato and back. The piano dominates, with clipped, hard-edged phrases scattering into dervishes of rapid notes. On “#7,” the drummer-less trio slowly braid their independent lines into a hesitant conversation, and then, cued by Voerkel’s switch to the drum kit, segue seamlessly into the more ominous and turbulent mood of “#8.” Throughout, Voerkel is the glue, finding a way to make Gallio’s more manic upper-register moves adhere to Frey’s low-register rumbles and moans.

This session’s greatest attribute is that the average track time is around three minutes, with no fade-outs or edits. So, even when the three stretch out, like on the nine-minute “#5,” they bring order and coherence to their playing. After a passage of upper-register swipes and big low-end hits from Frey, swooping soprano sax phrases, and minimal percussion, the three fall into a rickety syncopation and almost slip into a midnight ballad mood, finally settling on a hazy swing; It’s an extended version of the trio’s method of creating spontaneous harmonies full of dissonance and conflict, not harmonies in the conventional sense, but loose underlying structures that promote, not hinder, freedom.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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