There’s always been a chamber-music feel to the trio of trumpeter Darren Johnston and saxophonists Dave Rempis and Larry Ochs, now known as Spectral (the title of their 2014 debut album). Their output is entirely improvised, but the players carefully navigate space together to create their spontaneous melodic fragments and sophisticated counterpoint. One can image several approaches for an improvising trio consisting of three horn players—a monolithic group sound, brute-force blowing, strings of solos over vamps—but Spectral builds multipartite pieces with compositional logic, wending from one passage to the next via organic links and deftly responding to one another.
On May 1, the trio releases its third recording, Empty Castles (Aerophonic), which introduces a new element. The album was made in a former munitions bunker in the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve in Vallejo, California, and the 12,000-square-foot concrete structure impresses itself upon the music, its natural reverb extending every pitch. Notes hang in the air, forcing the musicians to play with echoes of themselves but also softening the edges of their tones, compared to how they’d typically sound in a studio. “Splash Zone” employs pointillistic spasms and fluid smears, while “This Is Not Vermont” builds sheets of sound that shimmer, pop, and undulate. The players’ elegant interplay persists, but they additionally have to contend with the room they’re in. As you can hear on “Brooklyn Took It,” embedded below, they adjust expertly, hollowing out silences to let certain notes billow and decay before adding new sounds to change the atmosphere.
R. Andrew Lee, Ryan Oldham: Inner Monologues (Venn Diagram of Six Pitches) (Irritable Hedgehog)
Irène Schweizer & Han Bennink, Welcome Back (Intakt)
Anthony Pateras, Beauty Will Be Amnesiac or Will Not Be at All (Immediata)
Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Ethiopiques 21: Piano Solo (Buda)
Valgeir Sigurdsson, Dissonance (Bedroom Community)