Saturday 5th SeptemberSeptember 6, 2009
Walking home tonight I turned a corner into a dark residential street and came right across a cat that had its front paw planted right on the nose of a stunned hedgehog. The cat seemed to know what it was doing, carefully avoiding the spines so as not to hurt itself, toying with the little fellow. So I came across this little scene, and the cat froze, staring right up at me. The hedgehog was already pretty frozen. It took a second or two for me to process the whole situation, during which I froze myself, and then I made that noise at the cat that you make when you want them to clear off, a kind of phlegmy wooshing sound… the cat stayed dead still though, staring right at me, but the hedgehog, taking its chance, did a runner into some nearby bushes. Happy it was safe I went about my way, and the cat wandered off in a bit of a sulk.
Anyway Close-Up, a new release on the Â Polish Monotype label by Bertrand Gauguet, Franz Hautzinger and Thomas Lehn is full of phlegmy wooshing sounds. The interesting thing is that they come as much from Thomas Lehn’s analogue synth as they do from Gauguet’s sax or Hautzinger’s trumpet. Close-Up is really nice actually, active and vibrant, but not breakneck OTT silliness, and squelchy splats and hissy whispers rather than anything faintly melodic. Thomas Lehn is a great musician, and his mark is all over this CD. The second of the three unnamed pieces here is lead by him, opening with rare droning sounds from his synth which drop away into little squiggles when the two wind musicians start to build breathy, fluttering sounds around him, returning later in the track subtly changed. Moments when the sound drops away to near silence are tugged back into life by his little pops and crackles, though to be fair on this piece I do struggle to be certain which sounds are his and which come from the others, particularly as Hautzinger adds electronic devices to his trumpet sounds, the extent of which is not immediately clear.
Throughout Close-Up I get the sense that, whilst none of the musicians feel the need to pair back their sound unnecessarily they are more interested in the textural and temporal interplay between sounds rather than any adrenalin fuelled urgency to pile sounds up. The music is generally quite slow, but varied and constantly changing. Lehn seems to provide much of the colour across the album, with the others feeding in and out of this, little twists and turns keeping the music flowing, muscular in places, gentle and softly blended in others. I am reminded of muted watercolours, dramatically arranged on the page, a limited palette, but placed perfectly into the arrangement. Â To be honest, as I listen now for the fourth time over a couple of days, all three musicians play really well here, the sense of timing and the use of space throughout is exceptional, keeping the music to a brooding, rumbling, crumbling stream rather than the rushing Â blow-out that could easily have happened in lesser hands. The monumental, twenty-six minute long third track works its way steadily through just about every dynamic possible, a middle section made up of swelling, wave-like sounds from all three musicians really catching the ear, the electro-acoustic blend really giving the overlaid textures depth. Later in the track a few annoying rhythmic elements appear, but not for so long as to spoil things, and to be honest I just found myself trying to work out who was making them. Throughout the album I am reminded of Nmperign, but with electronics added, such is the sensitivity of the playing and the musicians ability to really listen to each other before adding any contribution of their own.
The balance of the three musicians is excellent, three sympathetic yet expressive musicians finely tuned to each other. It would appear from the sleeve notes that the tracks on the album were recorded nearly a year apart (this doesn’t show, I had no idea before reading the notes after a couple of listens) and as many different promoters and venues seem to be thanked it seems the group have played together quite often. This really shows in the music, which sounds very much like the work of three improvisers with a close understanding. Close-Up is then a fine album of improvised music, one of the best of its kind I’ve heard in a while. It will be too busy for some, too abstract for others, but none of that matters in the slightest. Nice work.