Review: Bows and Arrows by Ken Waxman on Jazzword.

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August 15, 2022 

Bows and Arrows 
Cécile Picquot micro-label No # 

Thomas K.J. Mejer 
Uneven Same 
Wide Ear Records  WER 065S 

Linking multiple saxophone tones has gone beyond anything envisioned by Adolphe Sax when he invented the novel family of instruments in ther 1840s. Depending on the conception, saxophone choirs can project timbres as rugged as Swiss mountains or as smooth as French wines, as these commendable sets demonstrate. Ironically the abrasive explorations comes from a trio of free improvisers, two-thirds of whom are from France, while the polished harmonies result from interpretations by a saxophone quartet of five compositions by fellow Swiss native Thomas K.J. Mejer. 

The harsh, digging and sometimes fragmented harmonies on Bows and Arrows come from British baritone saxophonist Simon Rose and French tenor saxophonist Philippe Lemoine plus soprano/sopranino saxophonist Michel Doneda, who is also French. All have extensive history in solo and group free music affiliations. More precise, formal and oriented towards notated music are members of the saxophone quartet on the other CD. Between them Manuela Villiger, Eva-Maria Karbacher, Vera Wahl and Silke Strahl play soprano alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, with the composer adding his contrabass saxophone on four parts of “Resonating Voids”. 

Sometimes reverting to the stacked harmonies that the expected timbres of their horns are designed to produce, the Bows and Arrows trio also pivot to many advanced reed techniques where stentorian overblowing vies with harsh reflux, motionless air, tongue slaps and wailing cries to illuminate the two half hour plus tracks. When the concentrated motion fragments Roe frequently outputs blunt snores as sonorous continuum, Doneda stretches to shrilling yelps and Lemoine introduces intense triple tonguing. At the same time when unexpected melodic interludes arise it’s often the tenor saxophonist’s mid-range tones which pick them up and adumbrate brief adoption by the others. Linear motion and loudness sometimes work at cross purposes, but baritone sax slurs, tenor saxophone split tones and sopranino whistles that resemble air exiting from a balloon can be concentrated into tremolo accordion-like textures, which at the end of “1st Set” consolidate enough to blow away. More squealing, growling and inner horn scoops are highlighted on “2nd Set” , as again distinct reed techniques ranging from shrill sniffs to segmented internal horn breaths are heard on-and-off. Consistency among the doits, reed retches and scoops is also attained during those passages when the timbres are stacked in order to move forward in a linear fashion. Following an interlude of barely-there timbres, the three combine three separate variations of tongue slaps and inner body tube blowing for a moderated finale. 

There’s more same-ness than uneven-ness expressed during the tracks on the other disc. That’s because Mejer’s compositions rely more on harmony than dissonance. In the main saxophone quartet members’ interaction depends on unison pulses that emphasize timbral consistency. On the four-part “Sulpiziansche Bilderwelt” for instance, there’s only a hint of  harshness as the four move forward in unison. Even them that motif is prominent only in the third section, with the track reverting to the pastoral undulations of the introduction by its end. This dependence on lyricism is apparent even when coupled with rhythmic key percussion and a faint basso undertow as on “Endless Pleasures – Endless Pressures” or when low-pitched saxophones vibrate together for slithering jumps and stretches as on “.. Now They Won’t Stop Coming”. The addition of Mejer during the four sections of “Resonating Voids” does infuse more slurs, slaps and lowing growls to the performance. But while this five-part attack with a solid drone toughens the  performance these extensions still lacks tonal differentiation to provide reed differentiation. 

Perhaps this reed anonymity is Mejer’s vision for his compositions. Its realized performance by this Swiss quartet will no doubt charm many. However those who prefer more  thorny and capacious texture and timbre examination may pivot to Bows and Arrows. 

–Ken Waxman 

Track Listing: Bows: 1. 1st Set 2.  2nd Set 

Personnel: Michel Doneda (soprano and sopranino saxophones); Philippe Lemoine (tenor saxophone) and Simon Rose (baritone saxophone) 

Track Listing: Uneven:1. Sulpiziansche Bilderwelt I 2. Sulpiziansche Bilderwelt II 3. Sulpiziansche Bilderwelt III 4. Sulpiziansche Bilderwelt IV 5. Dark Snow falls Upon the Bagpipes 6. Endless Pleasures – Endless Pressures 7. Resonating Voids #2*  8. Resonating Voids #3* 9. Resonating Voids #5* 10. Resonating Voids #6 11. .. Now They Won’t Stop Coming 

Personnel: Uneven: Manuela Villiger (soprano and alto saxophones); Eva-Maria Karbacher (alto saxophone); Vera Wahl (tenor and alto saxophones); Silke Strahl (baritone and alto saxophones); Thomas K.J. Mejer (contrabass saxophone)*

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