Nocturna Discordia #12 at Soda – 4th Feb ’15

Ove Volquartz (bass clarinet)
Marc Vilanova (alto and soprano saxes)
Sergio Castrillón (cello)

Second time at Soda for nocturnal Discordian emissions and the variety of this Wednesday night is clear. A certain Señor Kilfeather had informed me that the basic principle was to mix it up, and that it was rare to see the same musicians in the same month. Well, the same could be said of the instrumentation. Last week, we had a no-input mixer; this week, a cello (the 11th will include a tuba, and the 18th might see a guitar quartet…) It keeps things interesting and after all, the consistency lies in the experimental aesthetic.

Anyway, once again, we have some classic vinyl spinning before the proceedings commence – this week, if memory serves, it was Sarah Vaughn singing “He’s My Guy”. A nice contrast to what’s due to start any minute…

It’s a meditative beginning, all three musicians silent, with bowed heads, almost prayer-like. Then, at last, broad cello arco strokes, the merest breath passing through the clarinet, with light punctuation from the alto. It’s not a surprising start but not a predictable one either, which bodes well. There’s just enough classical resonance from the cello to give things a quasi-avant-chamber vibe (later on, there are one or two fleeting moments when I’m reminded of the Ensemble Modern) and then Castrillón ups the attack with some ferocious string slaps while the horns circle and dance, moaning sonorously in an offbeat unison, like a drunken tide.

Compared to the extended improvisations common to this form of music, tonight’s’ vignettes are short, almost preliminary sketches, but what that means is that we get to experience a variety of moods and tones. The second piece is highly percussive (bass clarinet slaps, and the cello as cajón?) while Vilanonva’s alto desperately pushes at the restraints, as if constrained on all sides but determined to break free, however briefly. The third snapshot starts all higher register before Volquartz brings some welcome bass relief before all three plunge into frenzied wasp-in-a-jam-jar buzzing and fluttering.

A little (only a little) background… Castrillón is from Colombia, Vilanova from Barcelona, yet they met in Helsinki and have been collaborating there for some time as part of the very vibrant Finnish jazz/improv scene. Volquartz, I know even less about, other than that he’s from Göttingen, doesn’t have much of a social media presence, but features on numerous recordings, including one with Cecil Taylor’s name on it (‘nuff said, really).

Up until now, Volquartz has managed to avoid the Dolphyisms (no mean feat on this instrument) and has played firmly in the experimental improv vein. But when he does venture into more melodic (dare we say, jazz-y) territory, the ghost of Eric does draw a little closer – to be clear, no bad thing at all; especially when accompanied by some aggressive pizzicato basslines and fractured chording from Castrillón and an atonal soprano line which Vilanova plays like an itinerant snake charmer. Segue into minimalist heaven, with the soprano muted against a handy drumhead, a bowing of strings on the ‘wrong’ side of the cello’s bridge and tiny clarinet flourishes.

Overall, there’s an elegance here combined with a tentative and fragile brutality that inspires fascination and just a little trepidation; never knowing what might happen next. Another interesting hour of Discord.

But if you’d like to form your own opinion on the sound and vision, Elena Márquez has some very nice photos on her blog, and Ove Volquartz has posted a full-length recording on Soundcloud…