Thomas Ankersmit - "Live in Utrecht (excerpt)" (Live in Utrecht)
For a moment at the beginning of Live in Utrecht, just a fleeting moment, one can hear what sounds like the untreated sound of a solitary saxophone. Very quickly, a few conspicuous glitches hint at what’s to come, and before the listener has time to settle in, the alto saxophone is afloat in a sea of clones and electronically augmented cousins. When Dutch-born Berliner Thomas Ankersmit is described in print, the saxophone often comes first, but on this, his official solo long-player, Ankersmit’s horn is just an ingredient in a much larger stew, and, for long stretches, it’s absent completely. Live in Utrecht, recorded in 2007, mixes Ankersmit’s saxophone with analog synth and electronics in a dynamic performance that comes at the listener from all sides, as unpredictable as it is self-assured. Saxophone drones bookend the proceedings, with all manner of action in between.
Live in Utrecht is an unsettling listen, though agreeably so: its disparate frequencies, quick cuts and hard pans can mess with the mind rather easily. What one may initially take in as a glitchy minimalism is soon weaving its way through the listener’s cortices, playing tricks on the ears as the sound bounces from one channel to another in an immersive and tightly crafted 40 minutes of unceasing activity. Live in Utrecht borders on overstimulation in rare moments, but Ankersmit’s relentlessness is an advantage. Even when the bottom drops out at the performance’s halfway mark, Ankersmit doesn’t simply use the quiet as contrast. Instead, he cultivates from it a new form of growth, building high-pitched tones that swoop and swirl like barely perceptible gnats into a robust spate of upper register inhabitants, not half as loud as the disc’s beginning, but equally intense. Ankersmit gently coaxes the music back into a sax-y squall, adept as ever at making transitions and staying one step ahead of himself with a keen ear for evolution and the patience to make it effective. There can be excitement in watching a musician grapple with sounds that threaten to escape his or her control, but precision can be equally arresting, and Ankersmit wrangles his material beautifully from beginning to end with a deft touch and a canny sense of timing.
Ankersmit’s discography is slim. He’s been performing for more than a decade, and has worked with some heavy hitters (Phill Niblock, Kevin Drumm and Jim O’Rourke, to name a few), but seems intent on only allowing his best work into the marketplace (how’s that for bucking the trend?). As such, Ankersmit remains largely unheard. If he managed a few more albums of this quality, it won’t remain that way.