Two extended and two shorter improvisations recorded by a multi-national cast highlight the newest iteration of the Up and Out ensemble. Organized by Finnish saxophonist Harri Sjöström in 2009, since then the make-up of the group has been fluid. This Berlin concert for instance cantered on the violin and live-electronics of London-based Philipp Wachsmann, who has worked with Sjöström since the early 1980s. Demonstrating the German capital’s internationalism, are the other players, all like Sjöström Berlin residents, but only bassist Matthias Bauer is German. Drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen is Norwegian and vibraphone player Emilio Gordoa is from Mexico.
Compensating for the absence of a chordal instrument, it’s the vibist whose metal-bar tremors help create the slow-moving and atmospheric exposition of the three-part suite that takes up most of the CD. Amplified by reed squeaks, and arco microtones divided between low-pitched sweeps from Bauer and higher-pitched ones from Wachsmann, the narrative is built up with tension-inducing trills and flutters, reaching specific definition on “Up and Out – Two” and “Up and Out – Three”.
Recurrent kettle-drum like ruffs from Narvesen, coupled with Gordoa’s vibraphone clangs and a widening ostinato from Bauer defines the track’s ever-shifting anchor. Meanwhile scraps of spiccato string jumps and sprawling variations define the themes. While the saxophonist’s light-toned peeps are infrequent and often lost in the sound miasma, his ability to pump out pinched hunter’s horn-like lines with mutes are part of a memorable duet with the fiddler’s jagged variations early on the first track. Paced with percussion insets which take on wooden nerve beats and bell-like resonation, “Up and Out – Two” attains a stentorian crescendo during its penultimate sequence, After Wachsmann injects some 19th Century-like romantic string sprawls the piece climaxes by melding that motif with reed smears and vibe clunks. Taking up the narrative at greater length, “Up and Out – Three” is more long-lined, with gunshot-like drum strokes, ratcheting string sweeps and contrapuntal reed textures giving it a harder edge. Again the splayed polyphony finally reaches a contrapuntal climax involving all the instruments, though it’s violin squeaks which predominate as they arc over the others’ sounds.
Prominent as improvisations without defining structures, Up and Out can be appreciated as a model of how veteran and younger improvisers are committed to a common goal of sound exploration and elaboration.