Barry Guy New Orchestra: Krakow, Poland, November 20-23, 2012
That first evening began with Spanish pianist Agusti Fernandez alone on the stage. For his opening gambit, he swiped at the strings, rasping across the wires, creating impossible glissandos and almost electronic slabs of sound. Over the four days, the Spaniard proved likely to spend as much time under the bonnet as on the keyboardstrumming, rubbing and tapping, but also incorporating his Cecil Taylor-inspired drive with muscular bustling lines, largely eschewing the brooding lyricism of say Aurora (Maya, 2008) and his recent El laberint de la memoria (Mbari, 2011). As he continued, he blended tremolos on the keys with abrasion on the strings for a percussive effect, until exploding solely along the keyboard, heavy on the bass in knotty kernels.
A high whine of indeterminate origin was revealed to emanate from the muted pocket trumpet of Herb Robertson, when he materialized from backstage. Fernandez fell silent leaving the trumpeter to squeeze out the merest of whinnies. His sudden clamorous blasts interrupted the busy litany squeals, slobbers, and blustering squall. As Robertson came to a conclusion, the sound of keypads popping presaged the appearance onstage of Parker. He launched thick intertwined tendrils of circular breathed exhortations on tenor saxophone, tonal fragments which consumed themselves in a tail-chasing round, as both the pianist and trumpeter sat quietly.
Parker reached a crest. Then as he became more pensive, that cued the pair to venture in, gradually initially, but then spinning tales of gathering complexity. Robertson was a master of timbres, aided by an array of mutes spread on a nearby table, but matched Parker for speed of response. Like two galloping thoroughbreds, the pair sped onwards, first one leading then the other, while Fernandez underpinned the madcap dash once more from the innards of his piano. Not without precedentthe trio has recorded Parallelisms (Ruby Flower Records, 2007)the threesome provided an intriguingly capricious start to the four days.
One of the distinctive features of the BGNO is that it has at its core a number of preexisting combos, such as the enduring Parker/Guy/Lytton outfit and the Tarfala Trio (Guy, with the Swedish duo of drummer Raymond Strid and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson). Unsurprisingly, these established formats carried the greatest weight, with all the orchestra's members skilled at group improvisation, able to conjure art from out of the ether, riposte with such rapidity that it would be impossible to script, and move in unison without anything other than aural clues towards mutually acceptable and fitting conclusions. What was more astounding was the profusion of expression from fun-loving to severe, broad brush to jostling detail, open lattice to sheer cascade. Quality was a given, but even so, some combinations stood out more than others.
One of those was the closing set of the first evening, effectively the Tarfala Trio augmented by trombonist Johannes Bauer and percussionist Lytton in a bravura exhibition. Practiced communication meant that all five always knew where to go, changing direction at the merest hint. Bauer interspersed his emphatic blowsy riffs with breathy squawks and vocal mutters. In this company, Guy avoided elaboration, at times concentrating on a determined high octane strum, as Gustafsson flared in berserk oratory amid Bauer's boozy smears.
Strid and Lytton engendered a feast for the eyes as well as ears with their lively antics, constantly in motion, co-opting and discarding noise-making implements. In the interludes between the impassioned rhetoric, rarely have two drummers made so little noise, as they concentrated on novel textures. In a moment of joyous perfection at the end of the set, Guy bowed low toward the bridge, blending his honeyed sound with the pure tone generated by Strid scraping a stick gently across his cymbal.
Bauer's unaccompanied set, at the start of the second, evening encapsulated much of what makes him so special. He announced himself with reiterated fanfares, angled from the walls and ceiling and resonating around the room, then constructed his set from these persistent motifs. After the clarion wails he moved onto exhalations, whooshy trills, growls, and chunters, with the trombone only intermittently at his lips. He was even able to incorporate having a sip of red wine into his playful discourse, finishing after further brassy gales by saying "and so on..." with a big smile.