By Ken Waxman
Made up of two generations of accomplished improvisers, Quintet Moderne is an all-star European Union aggregation that adapts the conventions of so-called jazz and so-called serious music to its own ends. This way, as it shows on this almost seventy-minute recording, it produces a suite of breathtaking force, encompassing musical complexityyet still accessible to any but the most hidebound. Quintet Moderne consists of trombonist Paul Rutherford, Finnish bassist Teppo Hauta-aho, drummer Paul Lovens, soprano saxophonist Harri Sjöström, and Philipp Wachsmann on violin, viola, and electronics. Adding to the Eurocentricism of this live session are the acoustics of the castle in Prague, Czech Republic where the set was recorded.
Despite the classical roots of a couple of the participants and the jazz background of others, there's no doubt this is fundamentally a free music session. Except for a four-minute encore that's a spontaneous explosion of saxophone tonguing, crackling drum slaps, abrasive string perforations, and echoing trombone slurs, the major sections are shaped by group cooperation. This prevents any texture to fracture into mere instrumental panning.
Furthermore, although complex tonal colors often brush up against one another, they don't quite meld, so there's enough dissonance and distance in the performance to make things interesting. "WellSprings" isn't really a quintet performance either. As well as five men playing, very often each musician operates in a singular space, splitting or combining for duos, trios, and quartets.
Senior statesman Paul Rutherford is the most vocal of the soloistsexpansive and expressive through most of the recording, using grace notes and chromatic convergence to advance his ideas. Still, if slathered sidebands of trombone burrs become too overpowering, you can count on tiny, unselected cymbal rattles and gong-banging from Lovens, or staccato sul tasto comments from one or another of the string players to level the turf. Notwithstanding the band's moderated double, triple, and quadruple counterpoint, each voice also uniquely makes its own statement.
At one point, for example, Sjöström produces trilling, hummingbird-like overtones that reference classical horn music. Yet this is done in concert with the trombonist's elephantine trills that sound as if they're boomeranging off the dry castle walls. As the trombonist puffs out longer tones, Sjöström's overblowing turns to irregular vibrations as sequenced, electronic loops add to the sound field. Climax is unison cacophony, which allows arpeggio string reverb to serve as the foundation upon which first Rutherford's stentorian slurs and then Sjöström's trilling obbligatos are displayed. A descending postlude of pizzicato plucking and drum shuffles behind constant 'bone blasts serves as the finale.
With exceptional sessions like this one happening when they get together, it's too bad the members of Quintet Moderne don't have more opportunities to record.