Maggie Nichols / Caroline Kraabel / Charlotte Hug: Transitions (2002)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
OK, quiz time: Can you name another all-female small improvising group. (Currently, I can't think of one. But I'm sure one of you will be able to.) Gender is a relevant issue here, because many of the qualities that make for successful improvisation are (stereo)typically femalebehaving co-operatively rather than competitively, listening and responding sensitively to what one hears, making time and space for the contributions of others. And so it proves here; the vocals (largely wordless; like an instrument), viola and sax complement each other well. The music evolves gently, without anyone forcing the issue or trying to dominate. There are loud and violent passages, but they appear to arise organically, rather than at the behest of any one of the players. An example comes in "No Now," where a tirade of expletives from Nichols is prefaced by increasingly harsh sounds from both Hug and Kraabel, so when the outburst comes, it seems natural, almost inevitable. Gender is also an issue because, at the time of recording, Kraabel was six months pregnant with her son Clement. "Lullaby for Clement" is one of the longest and most engaging pieces here.
This recording session was only the third occasion that the trio played together, coming just a month after their live debut at last year's Freedom of the City festival. Given this, they are remarkably sympathetic and coherent, the equal of far longer established groupings. Each of the three, in their own way, has a certain theatricality about them. Kraabel performs solo mixed-media performance art pieces, as well as leading Mass Producers, a twenty-strong female saxophone group (not eligible as the answer to the quiz ). Hug has explored performance in unusual spaces such as dungeons and underground Roman Baths. Nichols' use of snatches of familiar melody and coherent phrases has long delighted audiences. Although this CD was recorded in Conway Hall (venue of Freedom of the City) there was no audience present, so the listener here is not missing out on the interaction between performers and audience (often a frustration with recordings of live events). Nonetheless, this is music of such drama that it cries out to be performed live; to listen to a recording is fine but it does have an incomplete feeling to it.
Track Listing: Undercurrents (for Paddy Ben Pan); Lullaby for Clement; Broken Bridges; No Now; Hymn Indoors; Coming Out; Up to Earth.
Personnel: Maggie Nichols, voice; Caroline Kraabel, alto saxophone, voice; Charlotte Hug, viola.
Record Label: Emanem