SAWT OUT- REVIEWS

As unusually constituted instrumentally as the timbres produced by the participants are unprecedented, Sawt Out should be listened to the same way as satellite photos from a distant planet are observed. Achievement lies in itemizing contours of a shifting landscape within the rigors of sonic achievement. Perceptive, but without resolution, the program also predicts further journeys.
Berlin-based, the trio consists of German percussionists Burkhard Beins and Michael Vorfeld plus Lebanese trumpeter/graphic novelist Mazen Kerbaj. Beins, who has collaborated with improvisers like Bertrand Denzler and Chris Abrahams, takes advantage of all the textures that can be sourced from an expended percussion kit. Vorfeld, whose experimental work leans towards contemporary notated music, plays an instrument which has strings as well as percussion. In his elaborations, the trumpeter's brass formula has as little to do with conventional Jazz as his drawings do to the Peanuts comic strip. Frequently during the four tracks here, instrumental identification is impossible. A tone or mode could as easily come from brass as rhythm or strings. Furthermore Kerbaj's cover drawing scrunches together hundreds of images that are both fanciful and human. And these cramped images also reflect the crammed sounds on the CD.
Sawt Out's four selections are very much of a piece. If the final "Sore Toad" is the briefest than it's also the most pressurized and highest pitched. It evolves from choked brass variations, ratcheting buzzes, gongs and bass drum plops to gnarring tones complete with a drum roll. In contrast the introductory "How Worried Are We" is the longest improvisation, creating every sort of resolution and reverb before it ends with quiet disassociated pings. Along the way metallic inner brass buzzes chafe against cymbal scrapes, drum bops and pitter-patter. Squirming amoeba-like in the exposition, the tune evolves with watery trumpet squeezes and tones from struck tuned glass, taut string thwacks and gentling drum top brushing. Altogether a consistent if irregular rhythm is established that deepens the connective sounds with lower pitches as it cements the narrative. Achievements elsewhere include a sequence in which it appears as if the timbres an entire electronics factory are accelerating in pitch and velocity simultaneously and another in which the exposition relates to harshness, with every sort of Mylar, metal, wood, catgut and tempered steel scratched and rubbed for maximum sonic irritation.
No relaxed or smooth program, this CD's fascination lies in acceptance of what it is and how textures are attained.
- Ken Waxman, Jazzword -

Seit seinem Move ins neuzeitliche Berlin wirbelt der Beiruter Trompeter Mazen Kerbaj die Szene dort ganz schön auf. Heuer wirkt es fast so, als hätten die Schaffenden vor Ort auf diesen Input gewartet. Sawt Out ist eine ungewöhnlcih besetzte Trio-Platte, bei der Kerbaj von den beiden Perkussionisten Burkhard Beins und Michael Vorfeld quasi eingerahmt wird. Diese Kombination bringt spannende Wendungen in der Dynamik und im Aufbau der Stücke - es ist keineswegs so, dass das Setting Trompete = "Melodie" und Percussion = "Rhythmik" ist. How Worried Are We? hat nach ca. 9 Minuten einen magischen Moment, der die Durchlässigkeit der Rollen und Klänge illustriert: aus einer dichten Schicht kreischender Beckenstreichungen und schmerzhaften Trompeten-Presstöne windet sich, durch einige tiefe Tom-Schläge angekündigt, ein zartes raschelnde Geräuschband heraus und löst die Spannung sehr flüssig auf. Solche Momente gibt es des öfteren auf der CD, die allerdings auch schnattrig-verspielte und extrem verdichtete - und auch ein wenig anstrengend zu lauschende, weil extrem in den oberen Spektren operierende - Passagen hat. Diese scheinen zum Ende der Produktion hin zuzunehmen, daher empfehlen wir das Abspielen im Shuffle-Mode, so dass auch das großartig-luftige Solid Water zur Entfaltung kommen kann.
- Zipo, Auf Abwegen -

An improv set with two percussionists (Beins and Vorfeld) and a trumpeter (Kerbaj). I'm attracted to that instrumental combination for some reason and the range of sounds created here, the thick matrix constructed between struck and stroked objects and the panoply of breath-derived brass sounds is quite impressive and enjoyable. The aural field is full, active and churning with little regard for silence - in this sense, it's a kind of extension of jazz-derived free improv, though of a thicker aspect, less scurrying, more grinding. 'Solid Water' features an intense, swirling sound the source of which I can't guess - it seems to be electronic, though nothing such is credited, but could be from the trumpet. In any case, it's pretty riveting and when it becomes increasingly embedded in the emergence of multiple cymbals/gongs, the effect is quite strong, made more so by its eventual abrupt cessation. 'Crossfeed' contains some searing bow-on-metal work through which one can just discern pop music from a radio buried in the mix, again developing a rich, unusual tone-world. The finely titled, 'Sore Toad' closes the disc with an engaging clatter of bells and thudding noises. While part of me would have liked to hear more space, more reticence, this set works quite well on its own terms and will certainly be enjoyed by listeners with a taste for active, visceral improv.
- Brian Olewnick, Just Outside -

'How Worried Are We?' Gute Frage. Verbirgt sich die Antwort in einer in ein echtzeitperkussives Sandwich gequetschten Trompete? Kerbaj bringt sich, karikaturistisch gewieft, mit Cartoons jeden Tag ein deutsches Wort bei, und wenn er gleichzeitig mit Karkhana metaorientalisch umeinander bläst und mit dem "A" Trio auch eigene Echtzeit-Abstraktionen kosmopolitisch bekracht, hat das u. a. auch das gemeinsam: Der Teufel, der Witz, steckt im Detail. Nicht zuletzt der Witz, dass in Noise-Musik stört, was man alltäglich mit Löffeln frisst und selber erzeugt: Monotonie und Krach. Hier freilich ist der Krach erstens nicht ohrenbetäubend und zweitens schön crazy gekratzt, geschnarrt, geschabt, geknattert, gekritzt, geharft, gepocht, geklackt, gepaukt, gegongt, geschlürft. Kurz, es ist ein bruitistisch-phantastisches Wimmelbild, wie es eigentlich allen Spaß machen müsste, die sich ihren kindlichen Rasselbanden- und Rappelkistenspirit nicht ganz haben austreiben lassen. Die drei Geräuschemacher überbieten sich mit skurrilen Einfällen: bezirptem und glockenspielerischem Dingdong, tonlosem Pustekuchen, blechernem Getrappel, emsigen Wischern, drahtigem Gefunkel, flatterzungigem Surren. Solid Water' bringt dann tatsächlich eine eiserne Wall of Noise, die aber schnell abflacht. So dass zwitschrige Laute hörbar werden, ein vogelig brodelndes Ichweißnichtwas auf metallisch crescendierendem Resonanzboden. 'Crossfeed' mixt zirpige Spitzen und Triller mit klapprigen, nadeligen und dongenden Klängen und solchen, die metallisch durch Mark und Bein schneiden. Auch 'Sore Toad' pierct fies die Trommelfelle, gefolgt von Gegonge, eifrigem Gekrabbel, rotierendem Klacken, rauem Scharren und basstrommligem Wummern. Hin zu metallischem Klingklang und Tickling, dunklen Tupfern und maulsperriger Trompete. Bis die Pauke den letzten Punkt setzt. Musik zur Zeit. Punktum.
- Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy -

Experience is (...) something that comes with the next disc, a trio of Burkhard Beins (percussion), Mazen Kerbaj (trumpet) and Michael Vorfeld (percussion). In September 2016 they were two days in a studio in Berlin and recorded four pieces, ranging from eight to seventeen minutes. Beins did the mixing and editing afterwards, which I guess means we never know how much of this we hear is 'as is' or in some way multi-layered. All three have extensive experience playing with people and in their playing together this shows. All three know how to approach their instruments in both conventional and non-conventional manners. You would think this is some rhythm heavy release, with two musicians on percussion, but it's far from it. All three of them treat their instruments, as objects that produce sound and sometimes this can be rhythmical, but most of the time it is not. Throughout these four pieces there is quite some noise to be detected; feedback like (but it may very well be no feedback, just very sharp sounds produced with cymbals or microphones up close to the microphone) and lots of rubbing and scratching of surfaces going on here. The trumpet is very rarely sounding like a trumpet, but sometimes the drums do. I have no idea who is the more conventional drummer of the two (if at all that is the case), but the dynamic range of the music works very well on these pieces. This is another intense release, (...) certainly no easy listening (...).
- Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly -

Sawt Out (recorded over two days in studio in September 2016) is the first album from (yet) another improvising trio out of Berlin, this one featuring Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj with German percussionists Burkhard Beins & Michael Vorfeld. (The Echtzeitmusik scene continues to impress.) It's generally a very sonically active album, even intense on some of the later tracks, and so (as seems to be a general trend) belies the minimalist origins of some of these timbral ideas & interactions. I first mentioned Kerbaj (b.1975) around Ariha Brass Quartet (an album that remains well worth hearing) in February 2017, and more recently with the more calmly enjoyable AAMM last June. (His distinctive "cartoon"-style graphic design also covers Sawt Out, as it has several of these other albums....) I hadn't mentioned it here, but even more recent from Kerbaj is Walls Will Fall (The 49 Trumpets of Jericho), recorded in May 2018, and (metaphorically?) true to its subtitle: That's kind of a relentless, building wave of a performance — almost an inversion of the second track on Sawt Out. Beins first appeared in this space around Membrane (with John Butcher & Mark Wastell) in July 2015, and then soon after with the percussion quintet Glück in September 2015. Most recently was Third Issue from Trio Sowari (also on Mikroton) last July.... Although it's composed music, Glück made a distinct impression on me at the time, and moreover included Vorfeld, who also appears on Nashaz — featuring Kerbaj associate Sharif Sehnaoui from "A" Trio (& so AAMM). To add to the "international relations" vibe then, Sawt Out was also published by Malaysian label Herbal International, again "spreading the wealth" (per recent remarks on Skullmarks...), and appearing on the package a bit eerily next to a logo for the Goethe Institut: So there are already a variety of relations in play, reflective of our era, before even considering the music.... Sawt Out continues to tour (under that name, which is rather more corny than the music...), and there are e.g. some videos on Beins' site (where this album is actually listed as a 2019 release, although it's 2018 according to Herbal), allowing one to watch what they're doing: That's a good thing, because I really wasn't sure: The piercing highs that punctuate the third & fourth tracks (with the latter reminding of the opening to Growing carrots...), for instance, seem like they might have arisen from electronic manipulations, but judging by the videos, these come from Beins bowing hanging Tibetan singing bowls — although they're not nearly so intense in the video performances, so who knows. Moreover, the rapidity (& repetition) of articulations that Kerbaj achieves is at least partly explained not only by the various objects levitated by the breath from his inverted trumpet bell, but by a flexible balloon/tube that he uses as a mouthpiece & can pinch rhythmically. (The only possible "electronic" gadget I saw was a small propeller fan, which at least in principle could have used mechanical energy.) Whether that explains the sheer speed, density & relentlessness of the second track — which seems to be edited to begin mid-cacophony — I don't know, because again, the album is more intense. (The album is also tagged as "eai" which might simply indicate its general sound, although as noted in the past, the extensive microphone placement does result in basically an electroacoustic album, and necessarily so, considering the careful balance involved.) That second track generally makes me flinch when it begins, although its bracing intensity (emphasizing dissonant continuity, not unlike Boule-spiele, discussed here in January 2017 & so actually after this recording was made) opens up with time into a more discernible metallic clattering.... I also, specifically wanted to "check the video" (& I usually avoid the commercial video sites) because of the title, as I wondered if the intense high glissandi from Beins might have been produced by a musical saw, but apparently not.... (I also got a chance to see what Vorfeld does with a small hammered dulcimer, covered in cloth to produce fast & precisely repetitive "clicks" — as also featured on Nashaz.) So while it seems that an album such as Sawt Out could not be made without contemporary electronics (microphones & mixing in particular), it also appears that the musicians are not using any electronic devices directly: That also differs from e.g. Coluro, which might otherwise be the most similar reference for the less intense (& longest) opening track, which is a sonic essay that I enjoyed immediately — & that remains a highlight. (The "break" to start the second track required more exposure to appreciate.) The specific exploration of timbral space, on Coluro including around flugelhorn, also suggests a (further) trumpet inquiry: I'm not actually familiar with any traditional use of trumpet (or similar) in Middle Eastern music, unless (perhaps) one gets into ancient prayer calls, the shofar, etc. (And hence the flugelhorn mention, as it was explicitly derived from an animal horn as well.... And as an aside, the most interesting, recent feature of shofar in this general musical space is probably that on Shofar Rags by Alvin Curran.) So not only does Kerbaj transform his instrument via various preparations & additional objects, but the concept of "call" as well, such that Sawt Out takes on a transformative vibe more broadly. (It's also wonderfully coordinated, such that complex timbres can blend across the three performers into composite sounds, undoubtedly due to sound stage engineering as advanced in its own way as the performers' mechanical preparations & techniques — here with the recording itself attributed to Rainer Robben, the mixing to Beins, and the mastering to Werner Dafeldecker, also of Polwechsel....) It's consequently a highly potent album, perhaps more "ordinary" in its timbres on the extraordinarily poised & communicative first track, but eventually coming to various points of searing & wobbling concentration — sometimes beyond the edge of comfort (broadly speaking). What is humanity & what is machine? What is personal & what is impersonal? Where is the call & to whom or what is it addressed? Moreover, anything outside of the ensuing musical intensity tends to vanish from the mind, until the world returns again with the silence of its cessation.... One does then (eventually) step back, perhaps reluctantly, into an ordinary stream of time.
- Todd McComb, medieval.org -

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