Klapper / Ulher / Morgenstern

Nur Nicht Nur / CD1001030

Martin Klapper (toys, electronics)

Birgit Ulher (trumpet)

Jürgen Morgenstern (bass, voice)




Russell / Turner

The Second Sky
Emanem / 4058

John Russell (guitar), Roger Turner (percussion)

Free improvisation has many faces, and these discs represent one of the most enduring of them: the quiet, unassuming kind which works with intimate little sounds, and which eschews structure, form, technique or any of that stuffy old nonsense. Music like this is, as a result, not always very accessible, indeed it could be said to be the musicians’ jobs to make it accessible, to provide the listener with a way into their closed, quiet sound-world. Then again, one of the pleasures of this kind of thing is finding your own way in, so it could be said that all the musicians have to do is play.

To characterise Klapper / Ulher / Morgenstern as a trumpet, bass and drums trio is laughably inappropriate. They just happen to play a group of instruments which might be employed to make a different kind of music, that’s all. Anyway, Martin Klapper hardkly plays a trap set: his “kit” here consists entirely of toys and electronic noises. Although what Morgenstern occasionally makes sounds which recognisably come from a bass, he most often doesn’t, and those moments are oddly illuminating but not typical; the same goes for Ulher.

The pianist has already impressed this year with a previous release on Nur Nicht Nur, PUT. The group has changed, and Ulher is perhaps slightly more forthright here; anyway, her style, which mixes breathy and valvey noise with skywriting surprises — albeit rather scrawly, Cy Twombly-style skywriting — is, again, a revelation.

She does play in some weird trios, though. What Klapper does will be well-known to followers of the European improv scene, and he doesn’t disappoint; a one-man tropical rainforest populated by cheap plastic cracker-fillers. Morgenstern plays arco most of the time, and vocalises in ways which often blend with his playing. This is hospitable terrain for anyone, and particularly someone with such conventionally “musical” tendencies as Ulher.

It’s amazing, then, first that she chooses to play in such company, and second that she clearly thrives on it. Of course, players like Klapper and Morgenstern are more sensitive than they first appear — in fact, one might say that music of their musicianship comes from great listening skills and superb responsiveness — and the way the trio works together is a reat to hear.

On PUT, Ulher worked with British percussionist Roger Turner, and Turner is a good bet in this kind of environment, although he’s a far more conventional player than Klapper (which isn’t saying a lot). He and Russell are a natural pairing; the guitarist is playful and percussive, fusing an aesthetic of clicks, bangs and scrapes with an underlying style which is actually rather lyrical and undeniably note-based. The same is true for Turner, and it’s what differentiates him from Klapper, because one can still hear the techniques of more familiar drumming lurking within the dances he does on his madly eclectic kit.

It was unlikely, then, that a duo between these two was going to disappoint. The music is superficially rather similar to that of the trio above, but it’s actually from a different universe. While the trio draw on ambient sound, extraneous noise and the everyday outbursts of objects around us, Russell and Turner are far more interested in the sound-worlds of Cage’s piano pieces, of flamenco, the mandolin and balalaika, of the gamelan, even jazz, and so on; musical precedents, then. None of which is to make value judgements either way, but simply to point out the disparity between these apparently generically similar releases.

Turner, as has been remarked before in these pages, is a rather remarkable player. He’s a “proper” drummer, not a tabletop manipulator of things, but he sounds more like the latter for much of the time. He’s great to watch — his technique seems haphazard, even comical, but it isn’t, or not entirely anyway. When listened to without the visual, his playing reveals itself to be subtle and clever, full of references to percussive styles but never quite falling into any one but his own. One case of the CD not murdering and pickling live improvisation, but providing an otherwise hard-to-achieve view of it.

Roger Turner is a London scene veteran and a man of endless resources. His solo recordings are nocturnal and gentle, but in groups he’s often raucous, percussive, abrasive and badly behaved. Something, then, like the late John Stevens, with whom he worked closely for many years. Here there’s a compromise; he sometimes lets fly the most outrageous of boistrous interventions, but for much of the time there is a mournful lyricism about his playing which is nothing if not unlikely. It takes some determination to play the way Turner plays for so many decades, always finding new things within it; this duet is an ideal place to make the acquaintance of both players. Richard Cochrane