Not Missing Drums Project,
Offline Adventures
(Leo Lab, 1999)

The previous release by this group (1998's Urban Voices, also on Leo Lab) featured a somewhat smaller lineup but the same musicians on every track. This disc, emphasising the fluid membership of NMDP, combines the musicians in anything from a duet to several nonets.

As before, the group mixes up contemporary classical sounds with jazz, and here the latter element is very much to the fore. The unusual instrumentation means this is slightly odd-sounding jazz, rather like the music Stravinsky composed under that name, but jazz it most certainly is.

The voices are less dominant in these sessions than on the earlier disc. There, the main solo statements were vocal; here, the voices are more integrated into the ensembles and there is more room for fine players like Axel Dorner (trumpet) to stretch out. On the Monkish "Open Promises," for example, the trumpeter takes a wonderfully didactic solo, moving from Miles through Freddie Hubbard and into the avant garde. Anyone who has heard him playing free improvisation will know that Dorner has a highly-developed noise-based technique. Here, as in his work on Monk's tunes with Schlippenbach (they once played the entire Monk ouvre in one night) he reveals a strong understanding of bebop fused to the angular, loping dissonances which the pianist enjoyed so much.

If this is one extreme of this album, "Formations for the Fragile" is perhaps the opposite.

Through-composed and closely reminiscent of the less ascerbic forms of New Music, this is all spikey strings, Elisabeth Bohm-Christl's warm bassoon sound and vocalist Alex Nowitz sounding uncharacteristically like a classical baritone. It's a well-conceived composition and the group play it with commitment and energy; while one can't help feeling one has heard this kind of thing many times before, but that's true of "Open Promises," too, and it shouldn't devalue either piece.

More to the point, these two pieces represent extremes of a spectrum which this disc explores in detail. Far from being a fragmentary mix-up of Miles Davis and Maxwell-Davies, this is an exploration of the possible points of contact between the two. While we do get the expected "chamber improv" in tracks like "Liquid Movements," we also get a majority of tracks which really do sound like an update of the "Ebony Concerto" -- classical jazz, yes, but full of energy and imagination. Far from the stale, Marsalian world of academic bop, this is, perhaps paradoxically, a living, breathing engagement with a broad sweep of 20th-century European musics.

Performers on Offline Adventures are Margarete Huber (voice), Magreth Kammerer (voice), Alex Nowitz (voice), Wolfgang Ritthof (voice), Enrst-Ludwig Petrowsky (reeds), Joachim Gies (reeds), Jurgen Kupke (clarinet), Rudi Mahall (bass clarinet), Elisabeth Bohm-Christl (bassoon, double bassoon), Thomas Wiedermann (trombone), Aleks Kolkowski (violin), Wolfram Korr (violin), Thomas Bohm-Christl (cello), Gesine Conrad (cello), Matthias Bauer (bass, voice), Gerold Genssler (bass), Hartwig Nickola (bass), Bardo Hennig (piano) and Andrea Neumann (piano).

[ by Richard Cochrane ]