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V/A - Audiology II: 11 Groups in Berlin

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Artist: V/A

Album: Audiology II: 11 Groups in Berlin

Label: a/l/l/

Review date: Oct. 21, 2003

Not so long ago free improv musicians could count on most European Union nations as sources of fiscal support. These days the coffers are quickly drying up as an increasing number of governing bodies pull back and adopt more American-styled stances toward funding for the arts. Case in point, the German government’s decision to place subsidies for the Total Music Meeting on the chopping block. TMM has been a fixture on the festival circuit for years. The prolific FMP label was practically built upon the happenings at the annual festival. Just reference any of numerous releases culled from the concerts that happen there. The dire situation forced label chief Helma Schlief into a regimen tooth-and-nail lobbying that continues today.

Audiology II: 11 Groups in Berlin acts as an aural guidebook, presenting all but one of the festivals acts in bite-sized morsels. The odd men out are actually Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley, who capped the fest off with a tribute to deceased bassist Peter Kowald. In typical Taylor form, the pianist abstained from inclusion, stating that a sampler was beneath his dignity. Schlief explains the exchange in sleeve notes with her usual tact and grace and it makes for an entertaining anecdote. Just like Vision Live, another festival survey released earlier this year on Thisty Ear, the disc ends up a truly tantalizing and ultimately barely satisfying experience. Many of the tracks are samples shaven from longer performances. Each one distills an essence from the ensemble or individual it represents.

Evan Parker acts as one of the linchpins of the 2002 fest. He is present in three groups: trio with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton; Schlippenbach trio with the eponymous pianist and Paul Lovens; and the recent fusion of the two 2x3=5. All three performances feature the saxophonist’s standard repertoire of braided multiphonics and accelerating scattershots of notes. The inevitable track fades present in each are particularly painful considering the strength of the interplay on display. Dopplemoppel, another venerable improv unit, also receives representation. Their snippet shows unexpected spates of delicate guitar lyricism in line with more unctuous musical impulses from the twining trombones of Conny and Johannes Bauer.

The disc also corrals a fair share of elecro-acoustic acts in tune with the continually expanding parameters of free improvisation. The trio Ossatura teams Italians Elio Martusciello, Fabrizo Spera and Luca Venitucci on an array of electro-acoustic devices, amplified objects, samplers and more standard electric guitar, percussion and piano. Operating under the sobriquet Mal D’Archive, trombonist Günter Christmann matches wits with the live electronic phase effects of Serge Baghdassarians and Boris Baltschun in an atmospheric game of cat and mice. Other surprises arise in the solo flute musings of Portuguese tone scientist Carlos Bechegas, who mixes madcap vocal effects with a commanding presence on what isn’t commonly considered a commanding instrument, and the Chinese duo of Duo Wu Wei and Xu Fengxia, who offer the longest track on the collection and trade ideas on sheng, erhu, bawu, xun and guzheng.

Thus far only The New Flags, a transnational trio comprised of multireedist Wolfgang Fuchs, Fengxia and percussionist Roger Turner has seen their complete performance (see the Dusted review) find full-length release. With luck and a financial boost, more will likely be forthcoming. Audiology II seems as much a celebration and encapsulation as it does handy marketing tool – compact and high caliber ammunition designed to curry favor with the powers that be without compromising artistic integrity. The disc is ripe with just the sort of sounds that make TMM’s continued longevity so essential. Here’s hoping that the suits sitting in funding committee seats are stationary targets and are listening.

By Derek Taylor

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