Statements Quintet,
The Cat's Pyjamas
(Leo Lab, 1999)

Dominic Duval, again -- not that we can really say that after his triumphal Equinox Trio disc of just a few months ago. And if that disc was unashamedly romantic with its vibrato-heavy strings, this one is anything but. It comes from a rattling, scarified world where the debt to Cage -- which is so great in European improv -- is more in evidence than any of Duval's recent projects.

Anyway, this isn't a Duval project as such, even if his bass, under the guise of some guitar stomp-boxes, plays the opening notes. Statements Quintet started life as a duo of dextrously rhythmic pianist Ursel Schlicht and Hans Tammen, a very inventive guitarist in the tachist school -- no pretty arpeggios here, just crocodile clips and objects wedged between the strings.

Tammen does, somehow, manage to keep this kind of playing interesting, probably just by the sheer amount of energy he puts into it. He works wonderfully with percussionist Jay Rosen, whose nearly-but-not-quite-jazzy playing holds the group together and encourages them, on tracks like "Living Proof," to ever freakier wigging-out.

Accordingly he's higher in the mix than drummers normally are -- a brave choice, but the right one. For much of the time, he and Tammen seem almost to be working as a duet, which is no bad thing because the latter is extremely involving and Rosen bounces off him wonderfully. Schlicht, on the other hand, is mixed unusually low, which gives her more of an accompanying role even in a track like "Machine Tools," in which she and the equally-understated Duval play a spacious piece while the others create a backdrop of scratches and clicks.

What's nice here -- apart from the contributions of individual players, especially Rosen and Tammen -- is the discrete identity they manage to lend to each track. On some, for example, Christoph Irmer's violin is invisible; on others, like "Sticks in the Throat," his contribution is decisive. Very interesting he is, too, covering similar territory to Mat Maneri, and although he may not have the Chicagoan's layered sophistication as yet, he already has a strong sense of what goes where and his voice is already his own.

And Duval? Well, again, he plays when he needs to and sits out when he doesn't. The mutual respect within this group creates a lot of space in this way and a considerable amount of seat-edge anticipation goes along with it, as the hackneyed routes for group improvisation are frequently abandoned in favour of more unexpected stuff. They don't pussyfoot around -- much of this is fast and furious -- but the energy-music influence sits alongside a more rarefied New Music feel. The equivalent of an un-put-downable book, the sheer exhilaration in the music keeps you listening, and the group's flexibility keeps you guessing while making the many risks it takes pay dividends.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]
Rambles: 20 July 2002