alter egos |cs226








































Pilier incontournable de la scène londonienne et du London Improvisors Orchestra depuis la fondation de l’orchestre, Ian Smith est un des trompettistes les plus originaux ayant émergé ces quinze dernières années. Ceux qui ont découvert et écoutent le travail de Nat Wooley, par exemple, vont avoir une agréable surprise. Il manie les glissandi, la saturation, de volatiles agrégats de notes et d’audacieux sauts de registre, éructe ou siffle avec un remarquable sens de la continuité. Il a trouvé en la violoncelliste Hannah Marshall et le percussionniste Stephen Flinn deux partenaires dynamiques qui le poussent à se dépasser. Stephen Flinn parcourt les moindres recoins de sa batterie en amortissant la résonnance des peaux avec des ustensiles et joue de leurs mouvements sur les surfaces des peaux et des cymbales. Son jeu voyage entre la profusion et l’aléatoire avec des passages où il se concentre sur une seule idée, comme, par exemple, avec la cloche dans Every Instant. Hannah Marshall trouve toujours le ton juste entre le dialogue et l’indépendance assumée. La qualité d’écoute du trio engendre des séquences diversifiées et imaginatives qui font transiter la musique de Watt des attaques explosives jusqu’à des sussurements subsoniques tels dans Singing Silk et Stripe ou du statisme hésitant à des pointes de lyrisme (Unrequited) qui relance l’écoute. Bien qu’il y ait seize morceaux, il semble que les improvisations passent sans transition d’une plage à l’autre en se bonifiant au fur et à mesure qu’on avance dans le disque. Les derniers morceaux se clôturent assez remarquablement par une surprise. Musique basée sur l’imagination et l’imaginaire, elle crée un univers voyage à travers les possibilités sonores et musicales de chacun d’eux dans une entente profonde. Les trois artistes choisissent très spontanément dans leurs bagages musicaux les éléments qui conviennent à l’instant vécu. Le trio Watt est intéressant et réalise ici une excellente séance. Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg (Orynx-improv'andsounds)

Ian Smith on trumpet, cellist Hannah Marshall, and percussionist Stephen Flinn, in a live performance from June 2012. European free improvisation. Short tracks, often lively, never downright noisy, fine synergy, very SME-like. We see Marshall’s name increasingly often, and she deserves it: here, her playing is colourful, complex, rich with ideas of all kinds. François Couture (Monsieur Délire)

Dans la nervosité assumée qui est la leur, Watt (Ian Smith, Hannah Marshall, Stephen Flinn) ne jure que par le hors-piste. Esquivant les bosses, faisant l’apologie du grognement, se séparant plus que ne s’alliant, ils activent et réactivent leurs bibelots résonnants. Parfois, se surprennent à exhumer les vieilles recettes du jazz pour, rapidement, réorganiser – ou plutôt désorganiser – leur vive et raclée quincaillerie. Bref : n’en font qu’à leur tête. Luc Bouquet (Le Son du Grisli)

Designing an engrossing improvisational program depend as much on circumstances as the instruments used. This trio prove this by melding the relatively standard tonal colors of brass, drums and strings. The impressive result confirm the universality of advanced music.
[…] The alter egos on the other CD are closer in age to one another, but diverse in nationalities. Cellist Hannah Marshall is London-born, trumpeter Ian Smith is a Dubliner who moved to London years ago, while percussionist Stephen Flinn lives in Los Angeles, but more often-than-not records with British improvisers.
Over the course of Alter Ego’s 15 tracks, Finn’s sometimes purposely muffled rhythms are not only are limited to slaps, clatters and reverberations, but also sound as if they’re coming from a berimbau, a Jew’s harp and a djembe, which may be part of the percussionist’s kit. Other approaches he uses includes the shaking of chains and ratchets, the squeaking of wetted fingers on drum tops and measured rim shots or cymbal angling that succinctly complement the others’ playing.
Marshall’s contributions to these spontaneous improvisations add to the general discordant timbres of the program. Eschewing legato, the cellist who has also collaborated with the Swiss noise-and-percussion duo Diatribes, usually plays agitato, slicing strings patterns and frequently spewing sul ponticello timbres. On a tune such as “End of Day” for instance, her wood-rending sprawls and string plinks also replicate double bass-like thumps and shimmering vibrations, as Finn rubs his drum tops in parallel cohesion. Meanwhile Smith propels his plunger notes to broken triplets and narrowed growls giving a woodwind-like lilt to his solos.
Smith, who helped institute the London Improvisers Orchestra in 1998, has steadily improved his brass skill during this century. Besides a catalogue of effects that encompass snorts, farts, slurs, puffs and noisy mouthpiece kisses, he has also internalized a command of more expected brass tropes, and can produce bugle-like brays when deemed necessary. On “Unrequited” for example his mouthpiece buzzing and osculation is designed as a counterpoint to Marshall propelling sul tasto shuffles and bow scrapes that escalate to staccato rubs and wood knocks, while Finn seconds both with wire-brush motions. Meantime “Every Instant”, one of the session’s most fully realized tunes, is built around his transformation of the brass line from pressurized grace notes to high-pitched flutter-tonguing, which somehow deepen to French horn-like pitches. Finn distinguishes himself here by bringing out his collection of miscellaneous wooden and metallic ratchets and drums, while the cellist confines herself to abstract slicing.
Fully committed to experiments with tonal capacities, Alter Egos have created a notable session. Ken Waxman (JazzWord)

It took several days and a considerable number of listens to figure out the compass of instrumental awkwardness that Alter Egos presents. This genus of improvisation is essentially unsullied and, exactly for this cause, hardly succulent if one approaches it nervelessly. You need to locate the “right spots” and proceed from there: close encounters, parallel soliloquies and socialistic violations of the norms of “regular handsomeness” help realizing that this music’s fiber is of such thickness to result impervious to any straining process. Smith emits squeals akin to those of an angered mother-in-law, windy currents that seem to come from some valley in a degraded Far West county and trombone-like purr-and-howl gibberish which misrepresent the actual size of his instrument. Marshall knows graces, traces, smells and splinters of the cello as no orchestral nerd can, usually privileging toneless qualities and unsmooth traits but, at the same time, being able to create droning clusters and skewed melodies that clarify – just a bit – a sonic map chock full of intertwined tortuosities. Flinn’s cognizance pushes him distant from half-baked pointlessness: hazardous propulsive prototypes and schismatic applications of creative intuition on skins, metals, woods and objects constitute the fundament of a systematic offense to the jurisprudence of percussive symmetricalness. Massimo Ricci (Touching Extremes)

One of these days the world of improvised and experimental music may agree on a taxonomy that can help us identify "styles" within this massive basket of a genre. Saying you like improvised music can be almost like saying you like comedy, where trading lists of favorites and inviting acquaintances to performances may also more likely than not lead to awkward silences. Some progress has been made, such as using the term "laminar improvisation" to evoke the approach of groups like AMM. Even that term, however, obviously fails to capture the extreme variety of "laminar" approaches to improvisation.

This can be a frustrating state of affairs both for listeners and reviewers. This is especially true when, as with Watt's "Alter Egos" for this reviewer, a disk features a familiar style of improvisation that one particularly enjoys, yet it can take so much work to find a way to convey in words what that music is like. The worst case is when reviewers start going poetic and whipping out the thesaurus to try to compensate. In the face of all this, though, let's take a shot at trying to say what's happening on this CD.

First off, some background on this group. Watt comprises Ian Smith on trumpet, Hannah Marshall on cello, and Stephen Finn on percussion. According to various internet sources (there are no liner notes) the three have individually played with a huge roster of European improvisers over the years, especially those in the U.K.

Now, back to the question of how they sound. One approach that can help is comparison to previous groupings. Perhaps expected of a group with London roots, this trio brought to mind some earlier Incus CDs. The interplay in particular reminded me of "Original Gravity," by Tony Bevan, Greg Kingston, and Matt Lewis. The players are clearly comfortable enough in their own musical skins to convey an individual and group spirit simultaneously. Where less experienced improvisers rely on crutches like imitating each others' sounds, trying to match registers, etc., Watt manages to create a more natural, organic cohesiveness. Each player is able to explore separate areas and sounds unique to his/her instrument, yet not lose sight of what the others are up to. The track "End of day" serves as example of this element, with its almost seamless and breath-like progression of events.

Speed of exchanges is another area that should be nailed down in a taxonomy of improvisation. Is it the lightning interplay of Parker/Guy/Lytton, the glacial, hesitant development of a lowercase ensemble, or something in between? In the case of Watt, the term "mid-tempo conversational" seems to fit. Cuts like "Hawks," "Every instant" and "Strand" represent this comfortable loping that Watt seems to enjoy inhabiting.

Another key dimension for improv groups is probably the degree that the instruments played are recognizable. Players that use a lot of extended technique tend to emphasize the unvoiced noisy elements of the instrument. Borrowing a term from phonetics, we could therefore talk about how "fricative" the music is. I'd say Watt is "medium-high fricative." Ian Smith's trumpet work, especially on "Old Suit," brought to mind a slightly more restrained version of Toshinori Kondo. Hannah Marshall's approach to cello shares the skittering deftness of players like Fred Lonberg-Holm. Meanwhile, Stephen Flinn's bag-of-tricks approach to percussion often eschews traditional drum sounds and invites guesswork about the sources of sounds.

So, "Alter Egos" fits nicely within the genre of European free improvisation, once you narrow down the specifics a bit. There are no big surprises but, to paraphrase Derek Bailey, this is the kind of stuff I like to hear on a night out. Wyman Brantley (The Squid's Ear)