ESPRESSO GALATTICO / GASSER-FREY-ULRICH: Espresso Galattico. Temptations. Ewig Währt am Längsten. Slow Fox. Softly, But… Talking. Joke. Off We Go. Ciao / Gasser 3: Jürg Gasser, t-sax; Peter K. Frey, bs; Dieter Ulrich, dm/bueg / Leo Records LR 845
Leo Records, the indie British label that specializes in recording free jazz, here presents the debut disc by tenor saxist Jürg Gasser and his trio, the Gasser 3, which has been an innovator in Zurich playing free jazz for several years. Like so many such groups, their music tends to ramble at times but, when they are on the same wavelength and all pushing in the same direction, they can also be quite concise and very interesting..
Such is the case in the opening selection, Espresso Galattico, where the leader tosses out double-time phrases and licks on his tenor while the rhythm section plays around the edges. One of the binding elements in this piece is the rhythm itself—that, plus the fact that Gasser seems to have some idea of where he is going even if it is off the top of his head. That being said, I was even more impressed by Peter K. Frey’s bass solo, which was surprisingly well-formed for something crafted out of such fragmented material—a brief but meaningful moment of clarity in a piece in which flying off the handle is the norm. In the follow-up piece, Temptations, it is Frey who tosses fragmented lines out to the saxist, some of them very high up in his instrument’s range. Gasser’s response, however, is to create fast double-time licks similar to but different from those in the opening selection. Interestingly, however, Frey keeps the rhythm moving together, even when he is playing edgy, atonal bowed figures on his instrument. Throughout much of this track drummer Dieter Ulrich is silent, allowing the sax and bass to work most of it out for themselves, though he does enter the fray with cowbells and bass drum at the 3:30 mark. After this point, things become louder and more frantic than before, with the drums contributing mightily to the crescendo of sound.
Ewig Währt am Längsten also begins with the bass, playing staccato figures that he snaps off the edge of the strings, supported by the tenor sax in little dribs and drabs while Ulrich tosses in some cymbal and snare drum work. After the 3:00 mark, they play higher, even more fragmented figures in double time, but it’s over by 3:38. We then enter the dark, mysterious world of Slow Fox, where Gasser relaxes a little on his tenor to play soft, mellow slow notes in an almost Ben Webster style if Ben Webster played free jazz. Frey and Ulrich are also into the feeling of this piece, although the latter cannot resist the temptation to double the tempo. This eventually prods Gasser into doing the same, but for the most part Frey cannon resist tossing in a few double-time licks of his own though he does eventually pull Gasses back to playing softly, albeit not always slowly. Yet they do fall back to relaxation in the last chorus, which fades into nothingness.
The trio pursues a similar aesthetic in Softly, But…, which sounds like a rather more fragmented version of Slow Fox (or perhaps an outtake of it, given a different name). One difference is that, at the 1:37 mark, there is more polyphonic interplay between the three instruments; in fact, this is the most polyphonic chorus in any of the pieces so far. Yet this, too, becomes more fragmented as things progress, moving into the hectic direction of the opening piece. At the six-minute mark, they suddenly stop dead, reduce the tempo, introduce an entirely different theme and move on. It’s almost like a suite. Really wacky stuff!
Wackier still is Joke, which is so off the wall that even I had a hard time following all the various splinters of music tossed into the mix. Here, one hears what appears to be a trumpet, but none is credited on the album; however, drummer Ulrich is credited with playing something called a “bueg,” of which I can find no description online, so this must be it. With Off We Go, we’re back to fragmented lines and edgy rhythms, this time even more splintered than previously. (Hey, maybe these guys need some Ritalin!) In the finale, Ciao, the group plays a much more laid-back piece, still improvised but more structured and less frantic.
This is clearly an interesting album with a few weak moments but many more strong ones.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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