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Kent Carter String Trio: The Willisau Suites

Clifford Allen By

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Kent Carter String Trio: The Willisau Suites To hear bassist Kent Carter on this '84 recording (augmented with two '97 tracks) is to hear the bassist in an entirely different context than anything his work with Steve Lacy and Paul Bley would belie. Always an artist with a penchant for strengthening an ensemble and its collective voice, Carter has comprised his ostensibly "solo" work of exercises and experiments documenting his search for a unified string conception in a group context. The use of overdubbed parts on everything from Ligeti-esque soundmasses to Eastern European folk explorations on his '74 Emanem recording, Beauvais Cathedral, point directly to Carter as something more than a sideman.

Of late featuring Albrecht Maurer and Emmanuelle Roch on violin and viola, respectively, the Trio in this early incarnation consists of Carter, Portuguese violinist Carlos Zingaro (who has since become a mainstay of the Lisbon free music scene), and French violist Francois Dreno. One of the most noticeable things about this string configuration is the replacement of the usual cello with the bass (and Carter is an accomplished cellist as well). The bottom end is thus more deeply felt, the range of the trio's voice thereby increased, and a definite orchestral weight has been added.

Thus, Carter's introductory "Dance Suite" can (and does) sound like a Michael Nyman or Rachel Grimes piece for string orchestra. This first piece is a slippery beast, and heralds an aesthetic that is carried for the entirety of the record: passages of chugging minimalist anthems alternate with harmonic rest stops and wily solos from Zingaro and Dreno. It seems safe to assume that music like this is through-composed, but therein lies the difficulty: the trio slides so effortlessly between improvisation and composition that they have, in fact, become one and the same.

Bartok and Kodaly run free through the streets in the caterwauling "Hungarian Fantasy," while Carla Bley's "Violin" is slowed down and elongated to the level of pastoral "nachtmusik," worlds away from its usual piano trio environment. Carter's involvement with dance and dancers (his wife, Michela Marcus, is a renowned dancer/choreographer) is a thread running through the entirety of this recording; though two pieces are themselves titled "dance pieces," from the overture of "Dance Suite" to the vicious freedom that opens "Image Suite," the feeling of motion, of leaps and pirouettes, of held poses as long harmonic tones, pervades every phrase in this trilogue of music.

String-derived chamber jazz ensembles like the Revolutionary Ensemble and the String Trio of New York are still decidedly jazz-oriented, but Carter and his cohorts are onto something different entirely. This outfit has carved out a niche for improvisation in the tradition of Eastern European string music, doors possibly thought of in late Bartok quartets and those of the postwar tradition, but not fully opened until recently. Never would one think they would have been opened so forcefully.


Track Listing: Dance Suite; Dialogue for Violin and Viola; Hungarian Fantasy; Violin; Dance Music Image Suite; Our Waltz; Willisau Suite #1; Broken Clusters; A Ballad.

Personnel: Kent Carter (b); Carlos Zingaro (vln); Francois Dreno (vla); Albrecht Maurer (vln, "Broken Clusters" and "A Ballad" only); Emmanuelle Roch (vla, "Broken Clusters" and "A Ballad" only).

Title: The Willisau Suites | Year Released: 2004 | Record Label: Emanem


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