STEN SANDELL/FRED LONGBERG-HOLM/MICHAEL ZERANG-Disappeared (Nuscope 1009)
A few years back, a mysterious person from Sweden left a number of cds from the Alice label at our store on consignment on a day when I was off. The only musician I recognized from the batch was Marilyn Crispell with a fine Swedish rhythm section. I eventually listened to and dug all of the half dozen cds that were left and discovered a number of fine Swedish musicians. One of which was a wonderful pianist named Sten Sandell. I later encountered him once again on a grand cd from another Swede -Simon Steensland. As the Chicago scene continues to expand and welcome a number of Europe’s best avant players – we find amazing combinations like this one. Michael Zerang is a longtime Chicago percussionist and Fred Longberg-Holm an exciting cellist who once lived here and now keeps immensely busy in Chicago in a wide variety of situations. Both Michael and Fred are part of Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet. Which brings us to this formidable trio – all of whom play prepared and unprepared instruments. Each of these nine pieces is called “Disappeared-Day 1 – 9” and each one is a splendid improvisation. The ever excellent and engaging nuscope label is known for its superb sound production and this one is another gem with immensely well recorded sound. On “Day One” the trio takes its time and gives space between each carefully chosen sound – minimal, yet magical – filled with suspense and surprise. Sten also performs some rather strange vocal abstractions on “Day Two” which also fits nicely in the scheme of evocative soundscapes. The proceedings begin to get a bit more dense as the trio slowly erupts into a series of fascinating fractured sonic explorations. I am often at the edge of my seat as the selection of sounds expand, contract, explode and disappear into silence. By “Day Three” the pulse gets quicker and things erupt in more focused and playful sections. Sten’s odd non-lyric vocals inhabit “Day Four” which is both fun and serious in bits and pieces – sometimes delicate, sometimes busy. This is an absorbing release throughout, which will engage us through numerous listenings.
by Derek Taylor
Sandell / Lonberg-Holm / Zerang
Describing a three-sided union of like-minded souls the trio of Sandell, Lonberg-Holm and Zerang is yet another indication of the dispensability of geography in improvised music. The former a Swede and the latter two Chicagoans, together they speak a common language flavored by individual vernaculars. Music alternates from ethereal to ominous on “Day One.” Lonberg-Holm is an exacting pitch technician with bow, but his approach is anything but academic. With the aid of fingertips and resined blade his cello evokes vocal resonances ranging from piercing screeches to buzzing sonic hums. His vigorous rubbing and scraping can stir up an incredible amount of volume on acoustic strings, but just as adroitly revert to silence in the space of a millisecond. Zerang’s various drums punctuate rather than drive on this piece and are reminiscent of Chinese opera accents sounded on claypot percussion, but take a far more propulsive tack later as on his frenetic work with brushes during “Day Eight.” A regular believer in placing myriad objects on the surfaces of his skins to strike and manipulate at will his custom-designed kit is again anything but conventional. Sandell’s gurgling vocal tones make their debut on “Day Two” cropping up again at various future points. His piano movements track in bright and dark roiling clusters of notes, paralleling his vocal gymnastics with an odd sort of symmetry. Lonberg-Holm’s flurried bow strokes and trenchant plucks on “Day Five” wrap around an incessantly stomping bass keys and clattering sticks, contrasting his delicate and sonorous streaks on the concluding “Day Nine.”
Though there is much variety and nuance in this trio’s interactions the level of musical abstraction is almost always extreme. Rare are the instances when the listener can coast on the familiarity of a recurring structure or pattern and even when these guideposts do arise as on sections of “Day Six” and “Day Seven” they are frequently usurped by swift returns to rampant discordance. At the immediate and cursory level it becomes difficult to decipher who and what exactly is guiding the variations in sound density and direction. Deeper listening is virtually demanded in order to properly map the musical strata being excavated by the three players and taken in one dose the whole can be quite numbing. This is music that makes no concessions to accessibility. It is left purely to the listener to jettison the proper mental baggage and come on board. Those willing and able to do so will find a terrain at once alien and inviting.
Disappeared- Day One (7:25)
Disappeared- Day Two (9:54)
Disappeared- Day Three (9:08)
Disappeared- Day Four (4:38)
Disappeared- Day Five (6:42)
Disappeared- Day Six (4:38)
Disappeared- Day Seven (7:08)
Disappeared- Day Eight (7:22)
Disappeared- Day Nine (6:37).
Sten Sandell (Yamaha piano-prepared & unprepared, voice)
Fred Lonberg-Holm (prepared & unprepared cello)
Michael Zerang (multiple percussion & zither).
Recorded: April 21, 1998, Chicago, IL.