Pago Libre is a highly accomplished quartet consisting of the master pianist John Wolf Brennan with Arkady Shilkloper (french horn, flugelhorn), Tscho Theissing (violin, voice), and Daniele Patumi (double bass). As may be expected from the instrumentation, there is a good bit of classicism in the sound of this group. Take "Toccattacca," for example. Although Brennan thanks Olivier Messiaen for the derivation of one chord (perhaps with a nod toward reviewers who see influences behind every green tree), this sprawling track seems in its turbulent nobility more to recall Igor Stravinsky. There is in general here a muted exuberance, dark-edged due to Shilkloper's instruments; every track, meanwhile, is marked by the stunning virtuosity of each of the players, and by their stunning ability to complement one another's explorations.
Shilkloper takes a grand french horn solo on "Wake Up Call," on which Brennan is likewise magnificent: percussive, shimmering, skittering, and glowing. "Tupti-Kulai" is built on an up-and-down stairway figure from Brennan which, after some chirping from Shilkloper, becomes a practically Jarretian figure - only richer, chiefly courtesy Theissing's string work.
The string men have their showcase on "African Blossom," a remarkable percussive track for a quartet with no percussionist. But chalk it up to this group's imagination. Throughout, this disc is a bravura example of improvisation of a high order. Heartily recommended.
Tscho Theissing, vln, voc; Arkady Shilkloper, fr hn, flghn; John Wolf Brennan, p, melodica; Daniele Patumi, b.
Track listing: Wake Up Call / Tupti-Kulai / African Blossom / Toccattacca / Folk Song / Synopsis / Kabak / Kobra.