Adding a new member to a long-established group sometimes reinforces the chemistry, at other times it transforms. With the threesome of reedman Frank Gratkowski, pianist Achim Kaufmann and bassist Wilbert de Joode, a unit since 2002, the co-option of Necks drummer Tony Buck propels the outfit more explicitly towards the high-energy end of the free spectrum, compared with previous outings such as palaë (Leo, 2007) and oblengths (Leo, 2016).
Recorded in concert in Koln, in May 2018, these six off-the-wall collective cuts are the product of close listening and inspired response. The foursome create an ensemble music with very few unaccompanied episodes and not even many passages which feel like a soloist with rhythm support. "Biomes" sets the scene; a slow moving uneasy stirring gradually turns blustery, Kaufmann and Buck strike up an enduring percussive alliance while, in contrast, Gratkowski and de Joode, bow in hand, careen and glide. As the temperature rises, Gratkowski squeals on alto saxophone, Buck roils behind his kit and Kaufmann slants angular piano crashes to cap the performance.
Such raucous tit-for-tat often becomes the default setting, but it is not the group's only mode of expression. Mastery of what has come to be known as extended techniquethe ability to extract timbres not normally associated with a particular instrumentmeans everyone has a full tool kit to call upon. The sort of lurching textural exchange which opens "Roughly Parallel," replete with scuffed sticks on drum heads, bass clarinet plosives and rubbed piano strings, also informs the understated "X-ularities" and initiates "Small Ways, Chasmal" before it evolves into yet more dense four-pronged interplay.
Gratkowski employs a whole arsenal of reeds, but particularly favors his flute on this occasion, enabling him to soar and flutter above the thorniest thickets. But it is also his preferred ploy to match Kaufmann's flinty expanding and contracting figures in the simultaneous streams which begin "Tenuous Links Beyond." De Joode moves between a sweeping arco and a spiky pizzicato which meshes well with Buck's clattery momentum, although he becomes subliminal during the most intense sections. But whether the destination is reached in sustained consort or via quick changing combination, there is always interest in the journey.
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