Ingrid Laubrock Octet – Zürich Concert, SWR NEWJazz Meeting
(Intakt CD 221. CD Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
When Ingrid Laubrock was living in the UK, she was an impressive and exciting presence on the improvised scene, and her activity has broadened since her move to New York in 2009. A week-long workshop at the NEWJazz Meeting of the SWR2 (South West German Radio) – with musicians from both sides of the Atlantic – culminated in this gig which was recorded at Zürich’s Rote Fabrik in December 2011.
Far from being a wild free-for-all, the concert contains music that is strictly notated. There is some space for improvisation, but it feels contained within a tightly-controlled structure. Although Laubrock takes a couple of solos, her contribution as an instrumentalist is generally subsumed in the ensemble. No-one has the opportunity to dominate.
The performance begins with three pieces strung together. An improvisation for six of the participants using tuned, water-filled glasses creates a weird, intriguing sound. Glasses leads into Novemberdoodle with the steady accordion notes of Ted Reichman, punctuated by Mary Halvorson’s guitar and Liam Noble at the piano. They are joined by drummer Tom Rainey and Tom Arthurs on trumpet, and the mood darkens as the percussionist switches to xylophone. The stately, accordion-led conclusion has Drew Gress on bass and Rainey back at the drums, and that trio ends the medley with an improvised Blue Line & Sinker. Apart from this short coda, everything is composed by Laubrock.
Chant starts with luminous, echoey guitar. Following a few seconds of near-silence, Laubrock takes a rare solo on tenor sax, accompanied by piano and drums; Noble and Ben Davis’ cello are prominent after the leader drops out. The complex parts of Matrix – with skittering drums, muted trumpet, soprano sax, delicate accordion – are conducted by Rainey.
There is an absence of conventional swing, and spontaneous interplay between the musicians appears to be rare. The majority of the set is concerned with texture and detail, with no predictable progressions, few melodic hooks and just a handful of repeated rhythms. It’s challenging stuff, and requires concentration. Towards the end, the rhythmic element increases, and harmonic movement is more obvious. On the lengthy and episodic Nightbus, there are brief blow-outs through Noble’s reflective introduction. A section for sax and mallets is succeeded by a floaty interlude, and – in a passage that brings to mind Henry Threadgill – drums are set against accordion, trumpet and strings before the ensemble provides a backdrop to a piano solo. This is the finest thing on the album.
A repetitive guitar motif emerges from ruminative noises at the beginning of Der Zauberberg, and it’s overtaken by a hypnotic riff for xylophone that continues to the end, juxtaposed with trumpet, accordion, piano and guitar.
You won’t go away humming any of these tunes, but Zürich Concert will remain in the memory long after the final notes have faded.