It is rare for Emanem to issue a three-CD album, but whenever it happens they are a bit specialwitness the most recently recorded one, Strings with Evan Parker, from 2001, plus the label's two excellent Iskra 1903 compilations. Now, to join such exalted company, comes Summer Works 2009, an album which more than deserves its place alongside them.
The album features duo, trio and quartet performances by members of the Rivière Composers' PoolKent Carter
on bass, Theo Jörgensmann on low G clarinet, Etienne Rolin on B flat clarinet, basset horn and alto flute, and Albrecht Maurer on violin and viola. It was recorded in August and September 2009, in concert and in studio sessions near Carter's home in Angoulême, south-west France. Rolin's sleeve notes say that the ensemble was "chosen by Kent Carter for the summer 2009 sessions," which may indicate that Carter had some leadership role; he certainly plays more than the others, appearing on all but two of the 28 tracks. There are long-established links between Carter and each of the other three, and also between the Germans Jörgensmann and Maurer, but this was the first time that all four had played together.
The four are all experienced improvisersactually, spontaneous composersand their summer works did not involve any premeditated structures. As Rolin notes, "familiarity with each other gave all present the confidence to go beyond personal wishes notated on paper...The fact that this particular formation was new to all of us more than kept us all on our toes." Crucially, that balance between familiarity and freshness is reflected in the music.
The album opens with a trio session from August 27 featuring Jörgensmann, Maurer and Carter; which is both an exploration and a warm-up session for the concert the following day. With no percussion or accompanying chordal instruments, the combination of clarinet plus violin and bass gives the music a sense of freedom as well as an inherent structure; the players have no problems establishing their places within that structure yet are not ruled by it; again, the balance between familiarity and freshness is vital. Both Jörgensmann and Maurer figure prominently, one to the fore then another, their soaring melodic lines interweaving highly effectively. Carter's bass frequently underpins their playing, on occasion becoming entwined too. The music goes beyond being preparation for the concert, having its own appealing lightness and freedom.
The following day, Rolin is present for two lengthy quartet performances, one recorded before the concert, the other at the concert itself. The addition of Rolin's instruments to the soundscape makes it richer and also allows more possibilities, most notably the interactions of two wind instruments, which is highlighted in a fine clarinet/flute duo. The quasi-classical titling of the quartet pieceswith "The Summer Works Suite" being subdivided into seven parts and "The Summer Works Concert" consisting of four movementsmay raise expectations of a sense of formal structure and unity than is not actually present in the music.
True, the concert piece does open with all the brooding gravitas of a classical compositionbowed bass notes overlaid with understated clarinet phrasesbut soon enough it develops into a free-flowing improvised piece in which the players trade phrases and respond to each other in kind; all four clearly have an ear on the overall shape of the piece, and it naturally evolves an easy pastoral mood with no-one obviously steering or leading it. Quite simply, it is a first rate improvisation or, rather, spontaneous compositionwith the emphasis definitely on spontaneous.
The album is completed by a duo session between Carter and Rolin, recorded over a fortnight after the concert. Its inclusion gives a pleasing sense of completeness to the album. The duo matches the rest of the album for qualitywhich is praise indeed. It is easy to hear why Summer Works 2009 was released as a three-CD album; there is so much excellent music here that even to pare it back to a double-CD album would have meant sacrificing some valuable gems.
Tracks: Ways of Moving; Spaces; Horizon; Persistent; Pinwheel; Music for a Ghost Story; Dance to This; Suite of Actions; Pilgrimage for Two; Up and Away; Hi; Sky Cry; And What is This?; Folksong; Eye for I; Alto Flute Story; By; The Summer Works Suite: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; The Summer Works Concert: First Movement; Second Movement; Third Movement; Fourth Movement.
Personnel: Theo Jörgensmann: low G clarinet (19 , 1828); Etienne Rolin: B flat clarinet, basset horn, alto flute (1128); Albrecht Maurer: violin, viola (110, 1819, 2128); Kent Carter: double bass (18, 1019, 2128).