Free jazz arrangements often spurn the development of form and structure, deriving their complexity from inter-ensemble relationships. The specter of 1960s collective improvisation looms large over Theo Jörgensmann's Fellowship. Though the compositions are founded on epigrammatic themes, they weave an intricate framework for moment-to-moment interaction.
The members of the clarinetist's conceptually sophisticated sextet bring six different perspectives to bear on the music, and the unitary thread of Fellowship is contrast. There are two negating rhythmic concepts functioning independently of one another, as if the players were divided by a wall. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes for bizarre listening.
Drummer Klaus Kugel gives his four limbs a workout with a sustained undercurrent of feverish activity; keeping the energy level high, he dispenses a continually rotating kaleidoscope of timbres. Meanwhile, pianist and vibraphonist Karl Berger abandons virtuosity and opts to meditate on held chords, and bassist Kent Carter is similarly economical in his choice of notes.
The reeds' improvisatory language is rooted in classic jazz idioms, with fast-moving bop from Jörgensmann and soprano saxophonist Petras Vysniauskas, and a strong blues influence in Charlie Mariano's alto sax. Their identities and styles begin to blur, however, when set against the idiosyncratic rhythmic backdrop.
The high points of Fellowship occur when the intensity falls to a low ebb and the music transforms into something entirely different, taking the listener's ear by surprise. Unpredictable shifts in mood and texture lead to some sublimely strange moments that obscure the line between soloist and accompanist: a blowing section in "Nameless Child" segues into a beautifully ambiguous passage resembling atonal classical music; "Nightmare" contains a hocketing dialogue that melts the reeds imperceptibly into each other; and the ominous "It Will Come" finds Carter switching to arco for an eerie drone.
The chief flaw of Fellowship is its variable sound quality: the mix occasionally renders the bass indistinguishable from the bass drum, and elsewhere the former suffers from noticeable distortion. Otherwise, the recording levels are satisfactory.
Drawing on a rich musical past, Theo Jörgensmann and his fellow players have subsumed their influences into a unique vision. For listeners equal to the challenge, Fellowship offers a communal balance between continuity and change.
Track Listing: Nameless Child; Nightmare; It Will Come.
Personnel: Charlie Mariano: alto saxophone; Petras Vysniauskas: soprano saxophone; Theo Jörgensmann, basset clarinet; Kent Carter,
bass and Klaus Kugel, drums.
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