Bertrand Denzler
& Norbert Pfammatter,
Nanocluster
(Leo, 2000)

The name Nanocluster refers to the fact that this duo forms a part of larger band Cluster, but there's more to it than that. Where Cluster makes music which draws heavily on free jazz, this nanocluster is concerned with something much less dramatic: a jazz of tiny gestures in large, open spaces.

Both Bertrand Denzler and Norbert Pfammatter have conventional chops, but both leave them at the studio door for this session, focusing their powerful lenses on sonic detail instead. For most of the time, their playing is quiet and full of little holes. Some tracks can be off-puttingly minimal at first, such as the opener with its discursive enunciation of croaks punctuated by formless-seeming percussions.

One soon realises, however, that this is deeply serious music. Tenor saxman Denzler, although he sounds fragmentary, is terribly good at making logic out of his very clipped vocabulary. Drummer Pfammatter has been working with him long enough to understand where he's going and walk in step; there are some surprising sychronicities here which belie the apparent randomness at the surface. And Denzler is perfectly prepared to make plain the melodic line which lies under the surface of eveything he plays here, as he does towards the end of track 6 with a high, off-pitch wail which squeezes out a song which has been waiting to get out for a while.

Pfammatter's percussion is similarly subterranean. Often exclamatory or gestural, sometimes sounding more like texture or punctuation than anything else, it in fact has a tendency to reference more conventional jazz drumming styles (think Ali or even Elvin Jones) as a touchstone, just obliquely but just openly enough to provide the listener, too, with an insight into his style. Once you've noticed it, there's a definite swing here, although certainly not one you could tap your foot to. It works perfectly with Denzler, and the two spark off each other without becoming unfocussed or indulgent.

Records like this inevitably take some getting into. This is very contemporary, unapologetically difficult free jazz which takes a very open set of ears to hear it. It does reward patience, however, this intelligent and stimulating converstion between two instrumentalists of impressive vision.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]
Rambles: 28 July 2001



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