Urs Leimgruber: Blue Log: Ten Pieces for Saxophone (2000)
Saxophonist Urs Leimgruber has explored styles of music ranging from contemporary composition to free improvisation. He was a member of the jazz/rock group Om in the late '70s. From there he would expand his aesthetic from jazz to complete free improvisation through associations with Swiss percussionist Fritz Hauser and French bassist Joëlle Leandre. Solo dates for Leimgruber are more or less common at this point, with three such releases prior to Blue Log (which was recorded in 1999 and released in 2000); the naked approach is not foreign to him. His discipline and patience to create something literally from nothing is quite honorable and profound. His prior solo releases were more compositionally oriented, with a few exceptions, but Blue Log is a completely free date with just him and his saxophones.
Throughout the album, Leimgruber places more emphasis on the soprano saxophone than the tenor instrument, though he plays both. The pieces that showcase his tenor, such as the first and sixth tracks, are excellent examples of the way he transcends the sound of the instrument by placing emphasis on tongue slaps, shrills, rich multiphonics, and sharp altissimo in order to create something so alien that it would appear as if it were originating from another source. He creates brilliant phrases and imposes an overall structure on the implied techniques, lending an overall motive to the pieces.
The soprano pieces focus more on almost ear-splitting altissimo, swift tonguing, quick arpeggios, and recurring patterns. The fifth track is the most accessible piece on the album, featuring a more conventional approach to improvisation by playing a basic theme and returning to it. This is a very delicate, beautiful piece with its own share of altissimo notes, but it's not as abrasive as the others. With regard to motifs, the eighth track includes reed pops as well as a sporadic share of squawks and swift tonguing. On the final piece Leimgruber plays over a set of multi-tracked textures that use interior saxophone playing and vocal drones to provide a background over which he places the soprano in the foreground to build a cohesive whole.
Unfortunately, Urs Leimgruber is criminally underregarded. He is indeed one of the great European innovators on saxophone, on par with the likes of Evan Parker, John Butcher, and Mats Gustafsson, as well as American counterparts like Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell.
Blue Log is indeed Leimgruber's most intense and difficult solo album to date. I would not recommend it as an introduction to his work, unless you are already familiar with the solo catalogue by his aforementioned contemporiesin which case this album may provide the missing link in reed transcendence.
Track Listing: 1(08:32); 2(02:00); 3(03:50); 4(06:52); 5(05:04); 6(06:56); 7(04:08); 8(02:39); 9(05:16); 10(04:57).
Personnel: Urs Leimgruber: soprano and tenor saxophones.