Review: Axel Dörner, Phil Minton, Mark Sanders

Axel Dörner. Drawing: Geoff Winston(*)
Axel Dörner, Phil Minton, Mark Sanders
(Café Oto – second night of a 2-night residency – 18th June 2011. Review by Geoff Winston)
Axel Dörner brought a calm focus and varied colour to three improvised sets – duos with Mark Sanders and Phil Minton, respectively, and the trio to round off the evening. Dörner facilitated an impressive range of responses from Sanders and Minton, with whom he has played occasionally over the last 15 years. Their sets ventured into a relatively restrained zone that saw a progression from the more musically literal to tenuously abstract areas of sound exploration.

Dörner played a rarely seen ‘Firebird’ slide trumpet, with an angled bell to allow the functioning of the 4-stop short slide – the original was built for Maynard Ferguson, but that’s where all affinities with the Canadian trumpeter and bandleader begin and end.

The electronics which Dörner uses include a form of valve synthesiser which is detachable from the trumpet, plus a foot pedal for samples and other effects. The mutes were wafted in front of the trumpet bell to create air flows, and he would also move from side to side in front of the mic which caught the sounds of his exhaled breath. Muted washes and rushes served as a foil to intermittent piercing brass blasts.

Mark Sanders’ contribution on percussion was pure acoustic invention; his flattened drum rolls, light scrapings and fine brushwork set in motion Dörner’s sequences of mechanical hisses, jet engine rumbles, an unnervingly invasive aero-copter intrusion and the near silence of steam and breath. With Minton, both were seated, as if to emphasise the conscious restraint in their delivery.

Vocalist Phil Minton‘s light cooing and imputed engagement with both the core and periphery of language blended with Dörner’s faintly audible hisses and escapes of air – a sense of leaky valves and drifting vessels. Minton’s clusters of coughs, sniffs, and faint whistles, his rasps and passages of air and almost-found words were the prelude to a spellbinding silence near the close of their duet.
In trio format the activity was more exercised, Sanders opening with gongs and a metallic tone, using ultra-thin sticks to tinkle a tiny bell. Dörner brought in radio interference, mixing with Minton’s feral exclamations and receding voices. Sanders tapped his drumstick through a broken hand-held drumskin from which a metal spring dangled in something of a quasi-Dada gesture. Dörner ran the mute around the bell as Sanders swept the air with his bow – all sounds which would be picked up on the recording which was being made. The concluding passage had the feel of a Kabuki soundtrack, minimal whacks and swipes, to confirm a commitment to the abstract realm. Dörner’s careful, lightly inspiring presence was always opening up possibilities, greatly appreciated by a faithful turn-out at Cafe Oto.

(*)Image copyright Geoffrey Winston. All Rights Reserved.

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