Bassist Tony Wren takes a very unassuming leadership role on this free improv date with the spot-assembled Quatuor Accorde. The Angel Gate
project was originally conceived and recorded in St. Michael and All Angels Church in London (thus the double entendre of the title). However, technical problems forced the quartet to regroup in a studio for some of the tracks, since background noise can be deadly to such a quiet (and thoroughly unamplified) sound. No matter; the live spirit of the group shines through in either setting.
Improvising string quartets often face a dualistic choice between their uptight classical peers and their liberated jazz counterparts. The middle road (which ends up the most promising) draws inspiration from both arenas. For the Quatuor Accorde, the spectres of John Cage and Albert Ayler both loom high. The members of the quartet rarely use instruments for their "given" purposeinstead, they adopt novel roles as broad as the players' imaginations, and as open as their intents. You can get a pretty good sense of a tune like "Scraping Through" from the title alone. But on this track the group also takes its liberties with the "scraping" concept, which is never to be taken totally literally. Over the course of this piece (and throughout the record in general), players form impromptu unions of twos and threes, briefly exchanging ideas before heading elsewhere to catch up with the rest of the group. Explicit harmony mostly appears in brief, fleeting flashes. Melodies generally consist of spare fragments tossed up by one member of the group and caught by another. The rest of the music remains implied, rather than stated, and it's up to the listener to put the pieces together.
Wren's three improvised bass solosthe numbered pieces which frame the group performancesoffer a brief respite from the hushed but intense four-way communication of the quartet. Wren takes musical fundamentals more literally when playing solo, and his careful but forward-looking style reflects an interest in the "total sound," rather than pyrotechnics or impulsive exploration. Thus his more explicit statements of rhythm and harmony.
Angels Gate is a very quiet recording for the most part, and the dynamics of overtones and microtones often shift the music down to the lower range of audibility. I'd recommend headphones if you're serious about getting the full experience from this disc, simply because that way you'll keep the quartet's feathery sounds from getting lost in your listening space.
Personnel: Phil Durrant, violin; Charlotte Hug, viola; Mark Wastell, cello; Tony Wren, double bass.