Vinny Golia: Birdology & On The Cusp Of Fire And Water

Clifford Allen By

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Reedman Vinny Golia is to the Los Angeles new music scene today what clarinetist John Carter was in the 30 years following Ornette's West Coast debut. Golia was co-conspirator in one of the most invigorating and versatile reeds-bass-percussion trios on the modern music map, with bassist Roberto Miguel Miranda and California "Sun Percussionist"? Alex Cline. He has also directed large orchestras, composed music for films and modern dance and directed one of the most successful artist-run labels in the canon, Nine Winds Records, since 1977. In these two new recordings, the duo Birdology with Swiss reedman Peter Schmid and a trio with drummer Michael Vatcher and electronic artist Steuart Liebig, Golia's ultimate interest as a small-group improviser is clearly shown.

Peter Schmid/Vinny Golia

Apart from the inherent rhythmic-melodic tension and freedom on many reed-percussion duets, the duo format among other instruments, when it works well, works because of a focus on contrast and resultant fluidity. Golia certainly works from this principle; in a recent recording with guitarist Nels Cline ( The Entire Time, Nine Winds), the contrast between Nels' acoustic and electric guitars and Golia's clarinets, flutes and non-Western reed instruments is what makes the pairing work so well. Cline, though a versatile and creative improviser, is known for his rock pedigree - his work with Mike Watt (Minutemen) being rather well documented. With Birdology, the contrast is based upon pairings of instruments in the same family; however antithetical the timbre and characteristics may be, valves and breath are central to sound production. In a way, the seamlessness of a duet for contrabass clarinet and piccolo is perfectly logical (see "Wiedehopf"?), a dialogue based on the motion of air as well as mind and history. Golia and Schmid met through mutual interest: both musicians are currently experimenting with an Eb sub-contrabass saxophone, the tubax, built by German saxophone designer Benedikt Eppelsheim. The tubax makes an appearance on four of the disc's sixteen tracks, a producer of orchestral "bottom"? rather than the comparative fleetness of the contrabass saxophone and clarinet.

Golia and Schmid are improvisers whose main focus, clichéd as it may seem, is on sound. Schmid has investigated environmental and architectural effects on improvisation, recording in cisterns as well as galleries. Golia, on the other hand, has amassed a repertoire of non-Western instruments, investigating sound from a somewhat more ethnographic approach - yet from the title of this recording and its individual pieces, one thing is clear: whether derived from culture or environment, the first breath is that of life and of birds.

On The Cusp Of Fire And Water
Red Toucan

Golia's trio with Miranda and Cline was a varied creature indeed; when on baritone or soprano, the fire was reminiscent of power trios like that of John Surman, Barre Phillips and Stu Martin. But when Golia and Cline opened up, employing shakuhachi, ney and an assortment of gongs, the improvisations eclipsed an expected AACM influence into something more exotic and unfamiliar, an introspective exploration into the wellsprings of natural sonic environments, possibly matched only by the work of Donald Garrett and Zusaan K. Fasteau. Joined by drummer Michael Vatcher and bassist/electronic musician Stuart Liebig, On the Cusp of Fire and Water, the openness and fluidity of that band is both recalled and extended. Though conceptualized by Liebig, this aggregation fits in well with the lineage of deep-listening trios that Golia has fronted over the years.

Surprisingly, Liebig tends to avoid the trappings of an electric bass, employing the "groove"? rarely and only when the flow of an improvisation calls for it. Rather, he punctuates sparse collective explorations with jagged harmonics and fluid pizzicato lines (thank fretless for that), augmented with tastefully applied live electronics, high-pitched whines and bottom-end drones that commingle with Vatcher's subtle cymbal work and Golia's breath. Apart from the building flurry of "Transit"?, most of the pieces here focus on creating an improvised canvas of activity, intermingling and collisions, rather than kinetics.

In essence, these recordings offer a more gradual experience of sonic environments, where song and sound are like a mingling of flavors on the tongue. Get your utensils ready.


Tracks: 1 Clarinet Choir 1:33, 2 Blackbirds 5:46, 3 Madenhacker 3:51, 4 Taubenbalz 3:49, 5 Pharaona 2:25, 6 Flute Choir 1:26, 7 Möventanz 2:36, 8 Wiedehopf 6:22, 9 Frässerbiine 1:46, 10 Some Other Blackbirds 5:51, 11 Ameisen und B-Meisen 3:33, 12 Dodo & Other Extinct Species 5:13, 13 Mövenschrei 0:56, 14 Madenhacker II 5:17, 15 Woodpecker Duet 2:56, 16 Saxophone Choir 2:44

Personnel: Vinny Golia Bass Clarinet, Alto Flute, Piccolo, Soprano Sax, Subcontrabass Sax, Wood Flute, Ney, E Flat Clarinet, Peter A. Schmid Bass Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet, Bass Flute, Baritone Sax, Subcontrabass Sax, Soprano Sax, Wood Flute, Taragato, Bass Recorder, E Flat Clarinet. All music is collectively composed.

On The Cusp Of Fire And Water

Tracks: 1 Flurries ... 8:21, 2 Prelude ... 18:10, 3 Aftermath ... 10:32, 4 Transit ... 7:42, 5 Undertow ... 20:27 ... All music collectively composed by the musicians.

Personnel: Vinny Golia Clarinet, Alto Flute, Soprano Sax, Stritch, Steuart Liebig Electronics, Contrabass Guitar, Michael Vatcher Percussion, Drums


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