Nils Ostendorf, Philip Zoubek, Philippe Lauzier: Subsurface

Subsurface indeed: Nils Ostendorf (trumpet), Philip Zoubek (prepared piano), and Philippe Lauzier (bass clarinet, alto saxophone) penetrate determinedly beyond the standard conventions associated with their instruments to produce a shape-shifting, three-headed hydra of experimental adventurousness. It's a bold forty-minute set by three intrepid improvisers from Berlin, Cologne and Montreal who are more concerned with exploiting their instruments' textural possibilities than their conventional melodic roles. The focus is on sounds, tones, and advanced techniques, not themes, heads, and ‘trading fours' as might be heard in a standard jazz trio context—in fact, the word jazz shouldn't even be uttered in this case, as Subsurface is primarily about improvised sound sculpting and the range of overtones and frequencies that can be generated via tone clusters. Throughout the release, Ostendorf experiments with embouchure technique and mutes to fashion a highly personalized approach to the horn; his trumpet wheezes and burbles, occasionally sounding as if he's playing the mouthpiece only or blowing underwater.

In “Dreaming on a Cargo,” the trio gives birth to a dense torrential mass that twists and turns before the piece decompresses in its final moments to allow the individual voices to come into clearer focus. During “Slow Collapse,” Zoubek alternates between the pluck of prepared piano and conventional notes while Ostendorf gurgles submersively and Lauzier ruminates. The title track might just as easily have been called “Sublunar,” given how deeply the three delve into its deep space drone. The musicians wander through both knotty landscapes and spacious, wide-open fields, at times attacking their collective sound with fervor and at other times pulling back to fill space more restrainedly. In every way, the trio's fearless and explorative music-making is quintessential Schraum.

December 2010