Stanley Schumacher & the Music Now Ensemble,
Sound Textures
(Musikmacher, 2006)

Stanley Schumacher and his Music Now Ensemble are practicing free improvisation here, a type of performance that is not for everyone. As the back of the CD sleeve says, "It is clear that to hear this music correctly the listener needs to minimize his attention to melody and harmony and instead focus on the ebb and flow of textures and colors within a varied rhythmic context."

The CD begins with a 5-second trombone fanfare. On the second cut, the first part sounds like a number of bees droning, with Schumacher playing his trombone over them. Then Ricardo Arias comes in on balloons.

To quote from the website: "Since 1992 he (Arias) has focused almost exclusively on The Balloon Kit, a number of rubber balloons attached to a suitable structure and played with the hands and a set of accessories, including various kinds of sponges, pieces of Styrofoam, and rubber bands."

The resultant sounds are as unusual as you might expect. Hans Tammen on electronics contributes quite a bit to the first six tracks. He is also credited on guitar, but he only plays a few notes at a time with it.

In much of the CD, Schumacher solos over the balloons and electronics. At times he plays quickly in quick bursts, while at others his notes come at a slower pace. On "Bad Diversity" he does a stretch of modified scat singing, making strange vocal noises that seem as if he is speaking in tongues.

The seventh and last track has Richard Smith on tenor sax and Larry Pittis on bass, replacing Arias and Tammen. This nine-minute piece is a minimalist electronic excursion, with sheets of sound slowly mixing in and out.

All this might seem chaotic at first. But with close listening you hear patterns as the musicians relate to each other. Often, Schumacher seems to be talking with his horn, directing his players. There may not be rhythm but there are musical notes, just in an unusual context.

It helps to see free improv live. With this group, it would be interesting to see how Arias produces sounds from the balloons. But these textures can also be fascinating to listen to, if you give them a chance.

review by
Dave Howell

23 February 2008

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