According to Meinrad Buholzer's liner notes, El Niño is, in weather terms, a habitual pattern of intermingling air currents and water temperatures that affects the Pacific Ocean and west coast of Latin America. This serves as a most suitable title for the music of the album, which represents a highly communicative and spontaneous meeting between three virtuoso wind instrumentalists: reedist Peter A. Schmid, flutist and fellow Swiss resident Matthias Ziegler, and New York-based woodwind multi-instrumentalist Ned Rothenberg.
Of course it should come as no surprise that these three could create such compelling music. Rothenberg was a member of Anthony Braxton's Creative Music Orchestra, as well as a partner of John Zorn and Elliott Sharp at various points, while Schmid and Ziegler have been making their rounds in the jazz and classical worlds since the 1980s. Here, the group has restricted itself to nothing but wind instruments, including such unusual representatives as Ziegler's own invention, the matusi, and Rothenberg's shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute. What results are eight examples of the group's potential for organic and highly interactive excursions.
Most remarkable about these compositionally-based collective improvisations is the high degree to which these players understand one another. Often it is nearly impossible to tell where the composition ends and the improvisation begins, as the two are so seamlessly meshed, the playing so imaginatively taut. On "SchRotZ #3," the three begin billowing their horns slowly, inching forward from their undersea hideaway before bubbling their horns into a cyclical and beautiful abstract dance. Considering the heavily abstracted approach to these compositions, the group never loses its sense of rhythm, at times swinging like Rahsaan Roland Kirk might have, had he gotten lost on some remote, uninhabited jungle island.
It is this percussive element that is this music's most remarkable trait. How easy it is to forget that there are no percussive instruments represented, when the instruments are hitting staccato notes one after the other, each in their own pocket of the musical space. The trio's clever maneuver around its self-induced limitationsat times churning and bubbling like the clouds of a summer storm, at others droning and slowly fluctuating as the thunder rolls into the distancecreates a dynamic album filled with a pure spirit of collective improvisation tough to rival. When the slow drones of "ShakuhaZiSch" creep in, they hold all of the menace of crocodile's eyes peering over the water. Building from this, the trio hastens the pace, with Schmid's low end clarinet drones gaining steam, without ever relieving the listener of the initial feelings of the piece. Such is the gift of these talented musiciansalways listening to each other and propelling forward, one after the other, further into the unknown.
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