Two striking albums of new Jazz from the Amsterdam new music scene, one a freewheeling scrapbook of abrasive multi-instrumental duos, the other a solid quartet effort in contemporary inclusive post-rock style. Argentinian drummer Marcos Baggiani plays on both.
Baggiani’s partner in the semi-eponymous Bagg*Fish (TryTone) is Michael Fischer, an Austrian musician/composer who founded the Vienna Improvisers Orchestra in 2005. Fischer engages in various other projects involving multi-media performance, art music and conduction, but it’s his recent interest in electro-acoustic feedback that makes the biggest impression here.
Bagg*Fish comprises three distinct sets – one for drums + feedback sax, one for small instruments + violin, and one for drums + tenor sax – in which the duo kick through fourteen mostly pugilistic and abrasive pieces in just over an hour. No coasting.
Fischer’s feedback sax sounds more like feedback electric guitar than anything you’d hear from John Butcher, the only other saxophonist I’ve heard exploring the technique. Fischer’s fretboard runs blend with vocalisations in a way that, when combined with Baggiani’s freewheeling percussion on lead tack “The Fire”, produces an effect not unlike that of noise rock bass/drums duo Lightning Bolt.
“The Steam”, next up, shows that they can also pull off the harder trick of maintaining friction and tension at slower tempos, but “The Mine” sees Fischer focusing again on raw screeds of sound while Baggiani plays with an implicit (and sometimes explicit) backbeat. The sax feedback enhances the electro quotient in this electro-acoustic sound. On “The Engine” Fischer hints, briefly, at a kalimba-tastic Congotronic rhythm impulse, but as the piece develops he leans closer into the raw grain of feedback, and Baggiani joins in with stick-scraped cymbals. After all this friction, the drummer is particularly explosive, though equaly tight and focused on “The Passage”.
The album’s middle passage through five focused pieces for violin and small instruments keeps faith with the coarse, close texture of what’s gone before. Fischer plays close-mic’d or suddenly expansive string-friction textures, while Baggiani scrapes and bows metal kit peripherals. It’s innately musical though: The solo violin intro to “Expedite” imprints the whole performance with folk music sensitivity, while Baggiani keeps things earthy with junkyard percussion, and on the brief, taut “Confer” and plucked-out “Grant” the violin is more in tune with avant-garde ‘classical’.
Of the closing pieces, for acoustic tenor sax and drums, “Bagg*Fish’s Home Base” parts 1-3 are mostly mid-tempo, with plenty of separation in the playoff between sax and percussion. Having demonstrated excellent breath control already, Fischer plays in hoarsely vocalised breath-bursts, much like Peter Brötzmann does in combustible duos with drummers Paal Nilssen-Love or Steve Noble. And Baggiani shows he’s in the same class. In fact, on this evidence he’s the more elastic of the three drummers, constantly sounding small crisp contact sounds off of tautly measured free-beats.
Bagg Fish was released in 2013, but I passed over it. I don’t know why, because I love it now. Erasing Borders (TryTone), which is new in 2015, is fairly conventional by comparison, but may well have broader appeal.
C.B.G. stands for Celano Baggiani Group. Baggiani we now know. Guillermo Celano is an Argentinian guitarist who met Baggiani in 2001 in Amsterdam, where C.B.G. is now based. Celano wrote all of the pieces for the set, and it’s his guitar that gives the group sound its edge.
The guitar sounds like an electric organ at first, on the title piece, but then peals open in split chords, lightly fx’d sustains and single note interpolations. Meanwhile Baggiani and double bassist Clemens van der Feen keep time while occasionally ranging beyond it, and Joachim Badenhorst, on tenor, plays lyrically until one occasional tack-change signals an entirely abstract interlude for sax and percussion. The marriage of purposefulness and unpredictability is quite a hook.
On a piece like “The Architect” I reckon I can hear the compositional influence of both Hank Mobley and Tim Berne, but again Celano explodes the structure with an injection of electricity that’s fully in tune with post-Harmolodic guitar, cf. James “Blood” Ulmer.
The first of two live pieces, “the Immigrant” then plays instrumental licks against thematic drive to generate friction: Badenhorst gets a raw-throated solo as the performance inexorably climaxes. The duality of jazz/rock feel is common enough these days, but the form seems more satisfyingly settled here than elsewhere.
The predominantly lyrical “Requiem for the Dying Planet”, which features Badenhorst on clarinet, is followed by the choppy rumbustiousness of the following “Paranoid”, though the later concludes with mellifluous sax over brooding bowed bass, and only Celano’s triggered electronics run any further disruption. The set emphasises Celano’s composing more than his guitar playing. The album’s most ambitiously structured piece is “War for Peace and Oil”, with some lovely interplay between bass clarinet and Feen’s precisely punchy contrabass.
Celano describes album closer “Amsterdamse Chacarera” as: “a blurred combination of the Argentinian chacarera style with the Amsterdam music tradition which includes 20th century music, improvisation and jazz.” It’s a wiry, tensile triumph of synthesis, and the track on which Baggiani most excels as he creates a bustling polyrhythmic basis for Celano and Badenhorst’s solo extrapolations, and plays crisply off against the contrabass in a collective surge into the final straight.
Erasing Borders is C.B.G.’s fifth album, and testament to their maturity as a unit. Their last three albums also featured Amsterdam-resident American reeds player Michael Moore, so those are probably also well worth checking out.
On Erasing Borders: Guillermo Celano guitar; Joachim Badenhorst tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Clemens van der Feen contrabass; Marcos Baggiani drums, percussion.
On Bagg Fish: Michael Fischer tenor saxophone, feedback_saxophone, violin; Marcos Baggiani drums, small instruments.
Ab Baars, Ken Vandermark, Paal Nilssen-Love Double Tandem – OX + Massimo Minardi – Lost Copyright + Raw Frame – Krakovia.
Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit – Erta Ale.
Buy Erasing Borders and Bagg Fish direct from TryTone.