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Reviews: Yclept

Birgit Ulher, trumpet, radio, mutes, speaker
Ariel Shibolet, soprano sax
Adi Snir, tenor & soprano sax
Roni Brenner, guitar
Michel Mayer, guitar
Damon Smith, double bass, laptop
Ofer Bymel, drums


Recorded on March 12th, 2008 at HaTeiva, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Israel by Niv Karasenti.
Mixed & Mastered by Niv Karasenti at Tomix Studios, Tel Aviv, Israel.

balance point acoustics






Sound of Music

In addition to the duo with Gino Robair, Blips and Ifs, yet another album with Birgit Ulher has recently been released: Yclept, together with the American bassist Damon Smith and a bunch of Israeli musicians: Ariel Shibolet and Adi Snir on tenor and soprano saxophones, Roni Brenner and Michel Mayer on guitars and Ofer Bymel on percussion. The recording took place in Tel Aviv last year and proves to be an outstanding set of musical creativity. It is in other words quite a large ensemble and there are many things happening on all fronts. But there is room enough for everyone, with a fine balance of higher and lower register (the record is by the way exceptionally mastered). Smith plays a very physical bass; he knocks it, wrenches its strings, so you get full aware of its body. Ulher’s trumpet clicks and hisses on its distinctive way and the fact that there are two guitarists also turn out with great success I think. The mixture of wind and strings increases the intensity in such a way that any uncertainty produces ideal opportunities for the development. The effect is short and long passages that generates a sort of inward and outward movements to the improvised music, something that is quite difficult to manage in larger ensembles, and especially since this is their first get together. Ofer Bymels plying also impresses me, sparse and suddenly explosive in the tradition of Paul Lovens, but with individuality and innovative moves.

Yclept is a meeting of Tel Aviv, San Francisco and Hamburg – quite an unusual map with many cultural differences. But, as Klaus Janek emphasize in his liner notes, it is as evident as it is incredible that they all speak the very same language, instantly. For those who doubt this, just listen to the fifth track (they have no titles) where an almost frightening timing and perceptiveness develops into a musical discourse where all voices are of equal importance and all gestures immediate.

Johan Redin, Originally in Swedish on www.soundofmusic.nu 2009-11-06


Paris Transatlantic

From the first meaty whoomph of Damon Smith's arco bass, one is keenly aware of a strong connection to bassists like Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall. There's a workman-like physicality of horsehair on strings, as well as a muscular and bodily presence that, despite its massiveness; is almost balletic in its motions. Oakland-based Smith readily acknowledges the influence of the German bassists; his first audio experience of freely improvised bass was Kowald's FMP LP Duos: Europa. With percussionist Weasel Walter, he's crafted an approach that balances perilously between careening expressiveness and exacting detail. But the "violent rage" that characterizes a Walter disc is only one facet of Damon Smith's work. Witness Yclept, his latest collaboration with Tel Aviv saxophonist Ariel Shibolet and Hamburg trumpeter Birgit Ulher, herself a master carver of miniscule brassy flutters and gut-wrenching wails. The three are joined across seven improvisations by a group of musicians little known outside Israel: guitarists Roni Brenner and Michel Mayer, percussionist Ofer Bymel and saxophonist Adi Snir. Groans, flutters and stuttering yelps jab and dive at one another across these sonic canvases, supported by long, crisp howls of bowed harmonics. Smith is the most identifiable colour here, a craggy yet humanistic brown amid the whitish-silver flecks of reed (?) chirps and brassy pops and clucks. The guitars seem to be prepared, contributing feedback and electrified plinks; like Bymel's snare and thick brushes, they fill the soundscape with spiky, pointillist gestures. The sixth section is certainly the most traditional, guitar scrapes and towel-damped toms shadowing urgent long tones. It's something ineffable that makes an "improv" recording (i.e., not jazz or free-jazz) sing – one just knows when that sweet spot gets hit. Yclept is definitely an example of the indefinable "it.".

Clifford Allen , december 2009 www.paristransatlantic.com


Temporary Fault

Back to our (sometimes) beloved rasped strings, kneaded wood and – in general – overtone-eliciting activity with an album that features two artists I’m familiar with (trumpeter Birgit Ulher, also featured on “radio, mutes and speaker”, and the aforementioned Damon Smith on double bass and laptop) in conjunction with Israeli improvisers that I meet for the first time: saxophonists Ariel Shibolet and Adi Snir, guitar manipulators Roni Brenner and Michel Mayer and drummer Ofer Bymel. Yclept is an effort that exudes earnestness and thorough application by the involved parties. No risk of obsolescence in these methods - although there’s nothing here that has not been heard before on labels such as Creative Sources or Al Maslakh - because when the exchanges are active, attentive, reciprocally sensible like this, one could go on and listen for hours. This is legitimate EAI, where the proliferation of timbral byproducts is directly proportional to the keenness of the participants’ ears. The balance between empty space and slight inquietude is guaranteed by a careful dosage of the instrumental components: percussiveness, mumbled harshness, abrasion and moisture embellish an otherwise extremely sober setting. This music possesses traits of artlessness that contribute to rule out the impressions of dogmatic attitude too often present in many similar gatherings, for the musicians appear more interested in searching for attention-grabbing details than in letting a holy emptiness resonate in artistic vacuum. In that sense, this is an excellent CD that deserves repeated spins, fascinating to scrutinize attentively and useful as sonic complement when the house is quiet enough.

Massimo Ricci, february 2010, temporaryfault.blogspot.com


Jazz Word

BUlher and Smith improvise on seven tracks recorded in Tel Aviv with a completely different set of Israeli players. Only soprano saxophonist Ariel Shibolet is a young veteran whose career includes playing with French bassist Joëlle Léandre when she was in Israel and California gigs with Smith, pianist Scott R. Loney and others. Similarly, Oakland-based Smith and Ulher from Hamburg have concertized in Europe and North America, with many older and younger free musicians. Meanwhile Tel Aviv-based guitarists Roni Brenner and Michel Mayer, drummer Ofer Bymel and tenor and soprano saxophonist Adi Snir are so far known, if at all, in Israel.

Proper showcase for all concerned is the 13½-minute fifth improvisation which initially alternates wood-vibrating smacks and sul ponticello sweeps from Smith, rattling smacks from Bymel, yelps and bites from the saxophonists and rubato tongue stretches from Ulher. As her growls and flutters transform into mulched tones and then to gusting grace notes, the saxophonists respond with thin whistling, Smith splatters and rips new textures from his bass –probably helped by laptop wizardry – and the guitarists thump and scratch downwards from strings to pick guards.

Elsewhere electronic wheezes make common cause with plinks plunks and rattles from the guitars as agitato, striated bass motions meet mute or foreshortened breaths, lip burbles or mouthpiece oscillations from the trumpeter. Featuring an equivalent trumpet-saxophone mix that matches moist tongue slaps and mouth percussion with quivering, squeaky reed bites, “Yclept 7” is an even more expressive group improv.

Here the electronic attachments to Ulher’s trumpet project wave forms skywards in counterpoint to agitato and inchoate string rubs from the guitars and dislocated vibrations from Snir and Shibolet. The tenor man swallows bird-like chirping so that it reemerges as thick, guttural blasts, as the soprano saxophonist mixes shrilling reed yelps with timbres that could come from a bagpipe chanter. Smith’s sul tasto rubs then spiccato jabs offset flat-line colored air movement from the saxophonists and Ulher’s tremolo triplets while Bymels’s steadying rat-tat-tats hold the beat and complete the sonic contact.

While it’s true that music may involve socio-political undertones – no matter how pure and questing it may seem – it’s equally true that uniting sophisticated musicians from different milieus can create notable discs like these. Anyone who would boycott artists from any country because of their government’s action is not only guilty of short-sighted malice, but doesn’t have enough faith in art’s transformation power. The 13 musicians represented on these CDs easily make the case for co-operation.

Ken Waxman, february 2010, www.jazzword.com

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