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November 29, 2023

Book of Stories
True Sound Recording TS04

Dirk Serries/Benedict Taylor/Friso Van Wyck
Le Sud
Creative Sources CS 780 CD

by Ken Waxman

Pulling the textures from a bowed string instrument, a guitar and percussion in opposite directions are one US-based and one-European trio. However each has defined this instrumental blend in a valuable and absorbing manner. The Book of Stories’ five tales are written by Americans, violinist Jason Kao Hwang, drummer Michael T.A. Thompson and Swedish-born New York-based guitarist Anders Nilsson. Meanwhile the two-part improvisation on Le Sud is actually created by three Northern Europeans. UK violist Benedict Taylor, Belgian guitarist Dirk Serries and Dutch percussionist Friso Van Wyck.

Using an electric violin and FX processing to toughen his note thrusts and playing alongside an electric guitarist, Hwang’s compositions sometimes bring out suggestion of Jazz-Rock and Punk-Jazz, if both those genre hadn’t degenerated into clichés almost as soon as they were born. Mixing fragility with function, the three create an alternate program where melodicism doesn’t hold back mettle. Able to expand string flanges to arena-Rock-like affiliation to connect with drum pounding, on a tune like “The Power of Many in the Soul of One” the guitarist subsequent subtle finger picking contrast with clenched spiccato string squeaks while at the same time join with Hwang’s pressured runs for a kaleidoscopic connection. Thompson’s drum patterns and cymbal crashes generate the perfect swing backing, using ruffs to strength the heartier material, or drawing back to fully showcase Nilsson’s ability to shift among pulsed strums, aggressive string stabs and effects pedal electrified backing. As for Hwang, he’s perfectly in control throughout. Appropriately somber and using a wavering pitch to memorialize departed associates on “Friends Forever”, he turns out formalized Europeanized strokes elsewhere, then surprise with energetic bow thrusts. Often those quick changes happen on a single track, so that group thematic evolution is followed by an interlude of arabesque swirls and stopped tonal squeezes, then a slide back to guitar-fiddle cohesion. Parallel yet broken-chord improvisation from all three is expressed throughout no more so than on “A silent ghost follows”. Slowly working up to a crescendo of knife-edge violin slices and fingertip guitar string pressure, the widening counterpoint reaches a climax then settles into descending stasis backed by refreshed drum patterns and an invigorating cymbal clash finale.

If Critical Response reflects in part the superior legacy of Jazz-Rock and Punk-Jazz then the Le Sud trio works from the concept of lower-case free music, which has been a common European currency since the mid-1970s. Despite Brexit, violist Taylor asserts himself during this continental concert by sawing, sweeping and stretching distinctive patterns from his strings. During the two over half-hour each improvisations however there’s no lead instrument. Positioned power strokes, steel string plinks and diverted chords from Serries plus Van Wyck hollow pops, metal cascades and sliding rubs are as much part of the organic evolution as Taylor’s jumps and stops. The violinist and guitarist have played together frequently, while the Rotterdam-based drummer plays with multiple local ensembles. Including frequent understated or nearly soundless interludes, his percussion asides include the vibrations of unattached cymbals, xylophone like patterning and chain rattling. These textures and other idiophone asides plus string clunks and clanks are often used to mark sound transitions, at which point high-pitched fiddle shrieks accelerate the expositions with tempos similarly torqued. By the middle of “Part Two” straight-ahead sequences give way to dissected tones divided among drum top wipes, spiccato viola stopped strings and banjo-like clanging from Serries. A hearty gong-like reverberation from Van Wyck cuts through guitar strokes and viola strains to signal the concluding motif. Diminishing arco fiddle rubs, drum rumbles and percussive taps on guitar wood diffuse textures into a silence as contained as the piece’s first timbres were squeaky and intermittent. Two similarly constituted trios, two ways of handling interaction, and each legitimate and engrossing.

–Ken Waxman