Barry Guy New Orchestra: Krakow, Poland, November 20-23, 2012
Guy initiated the comedown, as the Swede stilled to a meditative drone, before building an amazing solo out of the silvery harmonics he drew from his bass, his hands flying between positions all over the fingerboard, supplemented by a stick at one stage. Strid joined sympathetically, tolling untethered cymbals until Gustafsson intervened with paint-stripping acerbity to ensure it didn't all get too pretty. The trio's tempestuous vitality was manifest in the saxophonist's constant movement, hopping from foot to foot and swaying back and forth. Red-faced, eyes clenched shut, as if attempting self-exorcism, he poured out a litany of staccato plosives and riffing propulsion. Together the players formed a hard-driving trio nonetheless capable of moments of dazzling beauty. Strid's hammer shot on his snare signaled a sudden end to a superb exposition.
For Alchemia's final set, a brass trio incrementally expanded until the entire New Orchestra amassed on the confined bandstand. An avant-oompah feel held sway in a beginning, characterized by humor, receptiveness and a keen sense of the absurd. Holmlander and Bauer traded contrapuntal blows while Robertson (on trumpet) spluttered and buzzed from left field. When Bauer incorporated his vocal shtick, Robertson quickly leapt forward with his own argumentative voice, before once more bringing the trumpet back to his lips, in a syntax part speech and part brass. Ever the maverick, the trumpeter also produced a tiny hunting horn through which he shooshed and swooned along with his brassy co-conspirators.
As the rest of the group gradually squeezed onto the stage, the intensity ratcheted up into the crimson. Watts blew high and hard on alto before Koch cooled the fevered brows with his bass clarinet until he was left with only Fernandez and Guy in tender repose. A series of anthemic swells lead once more to a cathartic blow out, with assorted horns rising up out of the mass, and Gustafsson riffing hard to add some structure to the fray. As exciting as it was, this seemed unfamiliar territory for the band, without the extensive experience of something like Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet at negotiating a path which encouraged space for unexpected combinations and unpredictable ways between them, even though Bauer, Holmlander and Gustafsson feature in both line ups. Somehow the encore, after building to a tumultuous peak, dissolved into a raucous swing. Parker standing right at the back of the stage introduced the theme from pianist Thelonious Monk's "Shuffleboil" on his tenor saxophone (the only composition heard during the first three nights!) but no one was inclined to pick it up, so he sustained the tune alone, allowing it to function as an underlying motif.
For the grand finale on the Friday evening, the Orchestra decamped to the 300-seat auditorium of the Manggha Museum just over the Wisla river. Although the majority of the program consisted of composed works, the opening installment by Parker and Fernandez, celebrated the release of a duet The Voice Is One (Not Two, 2012), recorded live in Barcelona in 2009. True to the disc's title, the pair spoke as one. Fernandez' hands swept up and down the keyboard, stabbing with pointed fingers and hammering in the bass extremities, drawing a sympathetic rejoinder from Parker's brawny yet cerebral tenor saxophone.
At one juncture, the Spaniard manipulated the strings with one hand as his other parlayed a continuous rippling in the middle register, while Parker unfurled an unbroken sequence of circular breathed gobbets. Fernandez, fluent in the same way as the Englishman in compressing swarms of notes into convoluted gnarly branches, jabbed tremolos, crashed the heels of his hand, and pawed along the keys in repeated glissandi. Parker was really pushed and responded in kind in a tour de force exchange, until finally his sustained ascending phrases, heralded the ending of an outstanding first course.