Iskra 1903, for those not in the know, is the name of a poorly-documented improvising trio consisting of trombonist Paul Rutherford, violinist Philipp Wachsmann, and bassist Barry Guy. They played together for nearly two decades, yet only one available recording documents their work together: an eponymous '92 disc on Maya. Emanem to the rescuefor this release, a 1991 Frankfurt performance sees the light of day. The first set, a half hour-long trio improvisation, leads to a second brief trio piece, then 8-9 minute solos from each member, then an (unfortunately interrupted) denouement.
This trio, with its unusual instrumentation, has quite a distinctive sound. And unlike a lot of free-improv groups which cast aside as much energy as they are able to retain, this group seems to focus in order to build momentum. Rutherford may craft a melodic line of legato tones while Wachsmann and Guy convene to offer harmonic cues and demarcate the turns in his route. Or the members of the group might suddenly meet, discover disagreement, and forge a shared path out of the wilderness. Progress might mean thumping, scratching noises out of Guy's bass or swerving microtonal double-stops from Wachsmann's violin, or both. It might mean evolving call-and-response wailing or stuttering atonal exchanges. But the personalities here seem more interested in sticking together than falling apart.
They take their opportunity to fall apart completely in the second set, where each player takes the stage separately. This segment is particularly poignant given the impressive solo work each of these players has put on disc. Wachsmann's solo fills up the empty space with higher-order harmonics and electronic echoes. He builds a deliberate architecture of (mostly) high-register tones by crafting individual fragments and then assembling them together into an over-arching framework. Rutherford, on the other hand, draws his inspiration from melody and vocalization. His performance, while anything but linear, often resembles the human voice. He devotes much of his effort to dynamic tension and resolution, and you'll even catch him swinging once or twice. Barry Guy, who covers the widest tonal range of these three players, accompanies himself in a surreal sort of way that occasionally borders on schizophrenic. He'll tap and tinkle up top while imposing an irregular bass metronome, or he'll bow a heart-felt harmonized line that interrupts itself regularly with distractions from above or below.
After the solos, the players returns to the group setting recharged, reinvigorated, and eager to move. The final track (unfortunately interrupted after seven minutes, though tastefully so) contains some of the highest-intensity playing on the disc, along with regular moments of starkly beautiful melodicism.
Personnel: Paul Rutherford, trombone; Philipp Wachsmann, amplified violin and electronics; Barry Guy, amplified double bass.