Joachim Gies,
Different Distances
(Leo Lab, 1999)

Joachim Gies is a rather gestural saxophonist with a solid background in jazz and strong avant garde attachments. He can sound like several completely different players -- a jazz man, a free-former, even a classical performer. That's both a strength and a weakness in this set of 22 brief duets with assorted performers (plus a solo track, of which there is more in a moment).

These partners really are most unlike. Vocalist Ute Dring is a classical mezzo, singing composed lines in a mostly standard classical tone. Alex Nowitz, on the other hand, is an avant-gardiste whose electronics are wonderfully atmospheric, his singing almost subliminal. Just between these two, Gies switches from a clean-toned, precise articulation of what sounds like a written-out part to a world of squeaks and percussive effects for which no notation has yet been devised. It could be two different musicians.

Thomas Wiedermann on trombone sounds unaccountably like Oren Marshall on tuba -- rumbling, textural, a huge sound with a patient intelligence crouching behind it. Gies sits back and gives him room in their duets, though he's not afraid to step forward now and again, as on the lovely, teasingly short "auf immer." He gets to say more with cellist Thomas Bhm-Christl, who is temperamentally very close to the reed player and probably his most natural duet partner.

Gies reserves this claim for Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky's alto sax -- that is, Gies finds their sound and conception substantially similar. In fact, Petrowsky is much more in the Rollins mould, a player who likes to develop motifs in a very linear way. Put this jazz-based approach next to Gies, whose use of repetition and rhythmic variation is much stronger, and you have two really quite different saxophonists. When the two play together, they tend to take up the same idea and run in different directions with it. This is a highly effective technique, and it would be nice to hear more of this pairing, perhaps even dealing with some compositions.

What feels a little unsatisfactory in all this is that, good as each piece is, nothing lasts long enough to really get your teeth into, and each piece is quite jarringly dissimilar from what came before. A whole disc with any one of these partners would have been interesting, with the possible exception of Dring. That's no criticism of her contribution, but Gies' compositions, while nice enough, are pretty unsubstantial. Listened to end-to-end, this disk feels a bit of a mish-mash. The vignette format suits some -- Bhm-Christl and Nowitz but Wiedermann seems distinctly cramped. Even the odd track out, Gies' seven-minute solo, breaks down into distinct sections showcasing specific techniques or ideas.

Gies is a good player, but he has a way to go yet before he's ready to hold together such a disparate disc and make sense of it. There are few performers who could carry it off in any case. Still, it's churlish to heap too much criticism on a player who takes a risk which doesn't pay off. Each of these tracks is enjoyable in itself, and with judicious programming once can create any of five short EPs, five distinctive and satisfying listening experiences.

Which sounds like value for money to me.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]