FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004

OWN 90004

John Corbett


If improvising is often seen as something between people - the struggle of two or more musicians trying to make common music while still speaking in their individual idiolects - then we're faced with the conundrum of solo improvisation. Alone, what to struggle with? If the struggle is between the player and the instrument, an investigation of one's own language, then how to keep it from becoming public practicing?

If the struggle is with an already-existing set of conventional techniques, then how to keep it from turning into mere demonstration? "I have an inquisitive feedback mechanism with the instrument," says a voice of solo experience, Evan Parker. "I'm always listening for what it can do that l've never heard before." The delicate balance between what you know and what you're exploring, between the sure and the risky, between cliché and invention, between legibility and connotation. Even for a player who's made a reputation as a soloist, like Derek Bailey, the conundrum never disappears. Bailey often speaks of the poverty of solo improvising; meanwhile, in practice, he continually reconfirms its value. Berlin-based saxophonist and clarinettist Wolfgang Fuchs knows this conundrum personally. On the disc at hand, we hear him negotiate the isolated horns, retaining his unique sound while venturing out into a dialogue with his own abilities and limitations. He works with pure sound, yet does so in the context of a formal and musical logic. Intensively investigating the use of extended techniques, Fuchs has elaborated a highly personal style. He's a member of the first generation of improvising saxophonists to grapple with Evan Parker's paradigm-shift - since the mid-70s, he's taken on the challenge of creating an instrumental voice of his own. Refining that set of techniques and approaches, constantly discovering bits and pieces inherent in his playing that he'd never noticed before, Fuchs comes to solo improvising today with clear command of his language and a well-developed range of options. The task in these solos is to find new ways of organizing or structuring his elemental raw materials, to articulate what he speaks of as the "immanent part" - the possibilities inherent in the precise space and time of the performance.

Like Parker, Fuchs is extreme and exacting, tactical and intuitive. While you'd hardly mistake him for Evan (if you were really listening), you'll hear a fair amount of shared territory. The exploratory disposition towards the saxophone has opened up the doors to a variety of unexamined musical corridors and produced many altogether different stylists - such diverse horn men as Luc Houtkamp, Mats Gustafsson, Louis Sclavis, Floros Floridis, John Butcher, John Zorn and Kang Tae Hwan. As yet another practitioner, Ned Rothenberg, puts it: "It's testimony to the fact that this language is quite rich and very different kinds of poetry can be written in it."

Trademark Fuchs: slur, trill, sputter, tongue-roll, spurt, swoop, growl, pucker. Presence of the shadow of voice behind brittle dog-tone splinters. Graceful arabesques curl around coarse distortions. Sharp punctuation marks - staccato stops, instantly halting. So quick and definite, his broken-off gestures, that the attack seems to be where the decay should, like a tape running backwards. Fuchs's rhythmic skills are another ingredient. Sometimes a beat as regular and compelling as a Balinese monkey chant swirls up out of the sonic dust devils; check to see if you don't accidentally catch your foot tapping innocently along - perhaps it can hear something you can't.

Fuchs treats the contrabass clarinet as a full-fledged instrument rather than a machine for making freak-effects. Indeed, I can't think of another player, save Peter van Bergen, who has explored the depths of that horn so insistently. In Fuchs's hands, it sometimes sounds like some sort of analogue synthesizer, but always too human for that, his articulation too vital. Rubbery key-pad slaps. Slurping mouth sounds. From one extreme to the next: on sopranino, Fuchs is controlled fury, sharp and pin-like or linear motion incarnate. In parts, he matches a low tone with companion harmonics. With these twin poles and the clarinet and bass clarinet between, Fuchs confronts the solo conundrum head-on, creating spontaneous music, genuine improvisation - alone, like the solitary fox.

Wolves travel in packs, hunt together. So, too, many improvisers, who hunt for something new. Not only is this Fuchs's second solo record in a decade, it's one of his all-too-rare group dates as well. After the first 45-minutes of unaided work, he turns to an overdubbed transition piece with four tracks: deep long-tones on contrabass clarinet, panning squeaky-toy, free clarinet, voice. The vowel poem, which also appeared on his first solo record, SO-UND?SO! links this audio art to the legacy of dada phonetic poetry. It's also a quartet, fourfold Fuchs. This piece connects the lone reed work to two sets of duets, one with Evan Parker, one with Jean-Marc Montera, both of whom happened to be in town when Fuchs set out to make the solo record. Fuchs and Parker have recorded together before, on the 1989 mix-and-match double disc DUETS, DITHYRAMBISCH along with Louis Sclavis and Hans Koch. On these two cuts, they continue their sophisticated listening and interacting. Parker sticks to soprano (no tenor) for both tracks - the first finds bass clarinet beating low-register patterns, before Fuchs rises to join the Brit at the surface. Bright shimmer of sun on rippling water. The sopranino/soprano meeting starts in a more mouse-like place: scampering, energy, bustle of sound. The continuities of their respective vocabularies become especially clear as they merge into a single tangle of high-tone wires at track's end. With Montera, who's recently released his own answer to the solo conundrum, HANG AROUND SHOUT, Fuchs tempers some of his busier impulses. On the first duet, the clarinettist palpates the low-end of the bass clarinet as a steady backdrop for expressive guitar, meanwhile simultaneously working the upper register. And the finale: a stunning static harmonic and timbral study for clarinet and guitar.

Wolfgang Fuchs is one of the most significant contemporary read players. Solo, in his long-standing duet with live electronic manipulator Georg Katzer. or with the King Übü Örchestrü dealing with the distillation of sound or blowing in an organic free trio, Fuchs brings a freshness to the playing, a conviction, a clarity. To be at once searching and clear: a bold task whether alone or in company.

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