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I must admit to ignorance of Matthias Schubert's work prior to hearing this disc, and the only point of reference that springs to mind is the fact that he's in the band on Graham Collier's Hoarded Dreams, recorded in 1983 and recently put out on Cuneiform. Ignorance can often be lifted by revelation, and that's certainly the case here. Schubert deploys the sparse musical resources of his quartet with such aplomb that the listener might be left with the impression that this music would equally well serve a group of two or even three times the size.
With the exception of Jelly Roll Morton's "Shreeveport Stomp," all the compositions come from Schubert's pen, and as often as not they fuse the glacial formalism of Franz Koglmann with the kind of exuberance that in lesser hands might signal only so much self-conscious humour. Another point of reference could be Matthias Ruegg's work with the Vienna Art Orchestra, especially on "Upgradeing" [sic], where stealth and a melodramatic air of mystery come together to make music with the firmest smack of individuality.
Such are the demands of this music that drummer Tom Rainey spends as much time on some dark parade ground of the soul as he does propelling a small band, although the intoxicated swagger of "Don Cordolone" hints at something else entirely, especially when Claudio Puntin's clarinet and the leader's tenor sax take truncated solo turns in which they hint at various ethnic European traditions as much as anything else. Just to put the listener into a state of even more joyous bewilderment, the piece breaks down into an entirely different soundscape about five minutes in, only to be usurped by a state of studied disunity which sounds anything but contrived.
The title track runs to some thirteen and a half minutes, and not a second is wasted; the group collectively rings the changes in a manner which doesn't simply blur the line between composition and improvisation, but seems to make the division and any concern with it irrelevant.
Given that this is essentially group music, the singling out of individual contributions seems beside the point. Having said that, when Schubert does take centre stage, the quality of his playing is such that some listeners might mistake it for an alto sax. This is especially true on "Upgradeing," but given the distinctive sound world that Schubert has fashioned, it seems somehow appropriate, especially when the self-conscious and perhaps contrived avoidance of the obvious that has marked a number of recent releases is completely absent here.
Track Listing: Plus Minus; Soldaten; Upgradeing; Statik und Penetranz; Shreeveport Stomp; Don Cordolone; Trappola; Brattspiel.
Personnel: Matthias Schubert: tenor sax; Claudio Puntin: clarinet; Carl Ludwig Hubsch: tuba; Tom Rainey: drums.