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Reviews: 3:1

Birgit Ulher, trumpet
Mazen Kerbaj - trumpet
Sharif Sehnaoui - guitar

Creative Sources

The Wire

Out of their very different life experiences, trumpeters Mazen Kerbaj and Birgit Ulher have reached this point of intersection. Both have stripped their instruments of standard vocabulary but, no less than when Miles Davis pared away bebop, what remains in place is every bit as important as the process of cutting back. Each has retained the basis for development of an unusually articulate language; each has a dramatic sense of how to build tension and control it through measured release. The six improvisations on this recording on the Creative Sources label, made at Ulher's flat in Hamburg in 2006, are concentrated and eventful, making for absorbing listening.
The trumpeters are joined by Sharif Sehnaoui, who has worked extensively with Kerbaj in their native Lebanon. In his hands, the acoustic guitar becomes a versatile sound generator, a source of creaks, scrapes, rattling, buzzing and edgy bowed tones that manage to find fertile common ground with the horns. The trio's contained approach creates sustained internal pressure.
Kerbal has spoken of how the sounds of life during wartime in Beirul have seeped at some subliminal level into his unorthodox trumpet playing. lt's easy to catch such references. They are enriching but not essential; this music stands on its own. Ulher's clenched abstraction, controlled spluttering and impacted trills are every bit as expressive as the echoes of shell bursts, gunfire and pneumatic demolition. No reductionist aesthetic on 3:1, but some genuinely dramatic music.

Julian Cowley, The Wire, September 2008

Touching Extremes

Wondering to what soccer game the result refers to, but my queries hang about unanswered. The same happens when I pose myself this question: "How come that many people state that certain kinds of post-reductionist improvisation - especially if based on breath instruments - sound predictable?" It reminds, somehow, of that idiot commonplace regarding song plagiarism, when the accused "artists" defend themselves by saying that "you can only use seven notes", a classic demonstration of downright ignorance (just try telling to an Indian, or an Arab, about those seven notes - they'll laugh your socks off). In truth, thousands of combinations and nuances are often there to be individuated yet remain unspotted due to mental (and auricular) apathy: let's not forget the listener's individual level of preparation and perceptiveness in discerning something innovative even in a two-chord, 30-minute minimalist piece. What this grumpy writer means is that a release like "3:1" could easily be placed in the "been there, done that" cauldron of current instrumental inventiveness, and we would be dead wrong in doing this. True, the connoisseurs more or less know what to expect from Ulher - back on record after a period of relative inactivity - and Kerbaj, their trumpets perennially bubbling, hissing, fizzing and popping in settings that recognize a regular triad or a typical counterpoint as an alien presence. This time, though, it's Sehnaoui that acts as a catalyzer of positive energies, the (mainly harsh) sounds he manages to extract from a mere acoustic guitar as uneducated and diffident as a brat raised in an urban underbrush and abruptly thrown in a jet set party. The sum of the parts amounts to the anticipated total, and I keep loving pure mathematics in spite of all.

Massimo Ricci - Touching Extremes


Mazen Kerbaj/Birgit Ulher/Sharif Sehnaoui
3:1 / Creative Sources CS 110 CD

Stephen Haynes-Taylor Ho Bynum
The Double Trio / Engine e026

Throughout the history of improvised music and jazz, two-trumpet sessions have never been as popular as duets between saxophonists. Oh there were dates featuring Art Framer and Donald Byrd in the 1950s, for example, and Roy Hargrove and Marlon Jordan in the 1980s, plus a whole collection of Norman Granz-instigated blowing sessions in between. But it seems as if the preferred locus for dual improvising is a commingling of many saxophone keys rather than sets of three valves.
Twenty-first century musicians don’t seem to be limited by these conventions and both of these notable CDs centre on the sounds produced by two trumpets – or a cornet in Taylor Ho Bynum’s case. Each session also includes guitar. Yet the disparity between the discs isn’t that the two brass players – Stephen Haynes is the other besides Bynum – on The Double Trio, are spelled by two guitarists and two drummers, while guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui alone provides the additional sounds besides those exhaled by trumpeters Mazen Kerbaj and Birgit Ulher on 3:1.
Rather the reason for the marked divergence in conception and creation between the CDs is that The Double Trio takes its impetus from Free Jazz, while 3:1 is in the Free Music tradition. Furthermore while the players on The Double Trio – note the echo of Ornette Coleman’s double quartet here – are for the most part playing tune-oriented music in its broadest sense, Kerbaj, Ulher and Sehnaoui are manipulating sounds.
Bynum’s seconds are guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Thomas Fujiwara, both of whom have worked with him in other situations, including his stand-alone trio. Meanwhile Haynes, a Connecticut-based arts advocate and educator, who has worked with everyone from Bill Dixon to the Dells, is backed by seldom-heard guitarist Alan Jaffe and veteran percussionist Warren Smith.
Not that the interactive polyphony splits into trio verses trio. For instance on “mm (pf)”, the second part of “Suite Miscellaneous”, both trumpeters squeeze lip-burbling Bronx cheers from their horn as the drums rattle and the dual guitars strum and pick. Progressing in a tempo close to a drunken stagger, the horns parry interjections from the guitars that turn to descending licks while the drummers beat paradiddles and flams. Eventually the brass timbres divide, with one smoothly tattooing the melody and the other ejecting skyscraper-high notes. As the piece turns to diminuendo percussion rebounds, off-centre guitar frailing meld with downward slithering trumpet lines.
In contrast, Bynum’s “YX 6C” comes complete with a rhythmically sophisticated melody, chorded in African High-Life fashion by Halvorson. As the drums roll and rebound, the cornetist’s brassy blasts shape this serpentine construction chromatically, as it’s further decorated by Haynes’ slide-whistle-like discord. While the guitarists conclude by crunching splayed runs together, one plectrumist recaps the initial theme as one drummer continues outputting ruffs.
Even more traditional – in this Free Jazz context – is the six’s treatment of Coleman’s “Broken Shadows”. When one drummer press rolls, the other splashes cymbals, as the guitarists expose a sonic rainbow of finger picking, crossing and re-crossing one another’s lines until the sprightly melody is heard again. Then as the brass players contrapuntally spin out the theme, one guitarist sounds a distorted counter-theme. On other places on the CD, wood-block smacks are heard and one of the brass men –Haynes? – outputs a series of Miles Davis-like smears and slurs on top of booming strumming from the dual guitars.
There’s nothing that overt on 3:1, concerned as it is with textures and tones rather than linear improvisation. With no hierarchical division between the front and backline, each instrument has the same prominence, with Sehnaoui’s playing as obtuse and opaque as the trumpeters’. His looping asides and pedal point string sweeps do however provide a fundamental base on which the tongue slaps, mouthpiece oscillations and spit blows that characterize much of the brass exposition can rest. Discerning Ulher’s singular contributions from Kazen’s is nearly impossible, except for passages on “0:0” where the falsetto yelps are probably from her horn and the basso slurs from his.
Most of the session is concerned with shaping dissonance into movement, with both trumpeters auditioning the results of such extended technique as air-blowing without moving the valves, buzzing the mouthpiece against a solid object, playing quick bursts of concentrated triplets and spluttering and humming through the horn’s lead tube. For his part, the guitarist slides and scrapes along the strings below the bridge and pops the strings head on with mallet-like blows. Piezo pickups may be in use, but if they’re not, somehow Sehnaoui still manages to create oscillating buzzes equivalent to the trumpeters’ droning resonation.
Essentially spherical in construction, the six-track CD is defiant in its staccato dissonance, with no crescendos or diminuendos. Instead chiming friction, yawning echoes, thick, metallic-sounding rotations and jack-hammer like patterns are followed. Tremolo tonguing and a series of onomatopoeic and animal-like tones encompassing dog yelps, feline purrs and woodpecker patterns are more prominent than traditional brass notes.
Considering these sessions plumb the limits of trumpet expression in improvisation without remotely resembling one another, both confirm the versatility of a brass instrument duo.

Ken Waxman,

The Watchful Ear

OK I won’t start tonight’s post with a moan about anything. The problem is, if I don’t do that then I don’t know how to start a post otherwise. Hmm. Some more from Creative Sources tonight, and a disc released late last year on the label called 3:1 by the trio of Mazen Kerbaj, (trumpet) Birgit Uhler, (trumpet) and Sharif Sehnaoui (acoustic guitar). After last night’s disc, a buzzing, busy example of good improvised music here is another, but instead of the mass of insect-like clicks and pops and rattles that often characterise this end of the music 3:1 is more mollusc-like drags and scrawls and splutters. No criticism intended there, 3:1 is a pretty good release, but its sound world, whilst constantly quite busy revolves more around breathy, squelchy trumpet sounds, which naturally blend together more easily than other, cleaner-cut instruments. Kerbaj and Uhler, while both using quite individual appraoches can often be hard to tell apart here, but this doesn’t matter. they work primarily with noteless blasts of air and murmured gurgles. Sehnaoui attacks his acoustic guitar with a variety of objects ranging from metal files to sticks and stones, his input leaning more towards a kind of textural percussion than any traditional guitar sound. Certainly the strings don’t appear to be plucked or strummed at any point.

There are six shortish tracks on 3:1, amusingly named 0:0, 1:0, 2:0, half-time, 2:1 and 3:1. Each is a complete piece in its own right, a little miniature exploration of the three musician’s work, each subtly different, with different sounds coming to the fore in each. The album was recorded in Uhler’s flat in Hamburg back in 2006 presumably without any audience present, and this shows here as there is an intimacy to the music that occasionally begins to drift towards quieter territory. The eight minute long 2:1 for instance gradually shifts into a strange series of little pneumatic drill like sounds produced by Sehanaoui and one of the trumpeters simultaneously, at one point threatening to collapse in on itself before speeding up a little and stretching the same sound sound further into a choir of woodpeckers with sore throats.

In places things the trio do slightly tread water, going over obvious or similar ground here and there, but the tendency for each track to work in a different area of sound stops any such thing lasting for too long. The pieces are all of a nice length, just long enough for the musicians to work through one area of their sound fully before moving on. The last track might be my favourite, beginning with quite a loud, earthy drone with Sehnhaoui bowing the guitar and creating the most tonal sounds of the album before breaking down into a series of hisses and slithers that eventually become an almost humorous interchange of brief squawks and belches for a few seconds at the end. A game of two equal halves then with an exciting ending. Quite an easy victory when all is said and done, but one wonders if that last goal had gone the other way would I still be sat here now listening to a dramatic penalty shoot-out…

Regarding the large pile of Creative Sources releases I was sent earlier this year, I must now have listened carefully to six or seven of them, and in general, while I may not have heard the release of the year amongst them so far I have certainly heard more winners than losers. To be fair, for the last few reviews I have picked out discs I thought i might like more than others, so perhaps what remains will inspire me less, but on what I have heard so far I’d say that Creative Sources are doing well and the negative press they seem to get quite often is undeserved..

Richard Pinnell -

Sound of Music

Här samlas tre ljudmusikanter som ägnar stor glädje åt att omdefiniera
och främmandegöra sina instrument. Mazen Kerbaj och Sharif Sehnaoui hör
till Beiruts - faktiskt - blomstrande friform- och avantgardescen.
Kerbaj blev ju världskänd för två år sedan, då han satt på balkongen och
spelade trumpet till det israeliska bombardemanget. Han har också
förklarat hur krevader, skott, hot, beväpnade män var en aktiv hörbild
under hans uppväxt. Liksom gitarristen Sharif Sehnaoui var han ung i
Beirut under det förödande inbördeskriget. Det blev ett slags vardag, en
klangbotten och en ljudmatta, som de tog till sig och vande sig att röra
sig mot.

Hur absurt det än låter, har de båda för mig berättat att alla dessa
ljud och dödliga händelser till sist blev ett med livet. De vande sig på
ett plan. Och självklart växte musiken ur och mot detta absurda. Hur kan
man då längre spela skönklang? Sharif började som jazzmusiker och ville
i sin grupp att Mazen skulle spela så, men det var omöjligt.
Instrumenten omprövades, ljuden blev en väv av nya klanger. Hårda,
metalliska, smattrande, om man så vill. Konkreta ljud ur verkliga
instrument. Kerbaj spelar expressivt och litet snöpt på sin trumpet;
fräsande musik instängd. Sehnaoui har valt ett mycket enklare vis att
med olika applikationer i strängarna skapa vibrerande ljud, små
korthuggna rytmer. Som om han inte tilltrodde instrumentet mer än så,
inte ville glida in i gitarrens lockande jazzfrestelser. Kvar blir små
skärvor. Sehnaoui och Kerbaj är mycket tätspelande. Tillsammans kan det
nästan vara svårt att skilja dem åt, där de till sist litet disträ
rafsar och ruskar tonerna så att allt ramlar av dem utom deras mest
skrovliga kärnor.

Så har vi från Hamburg en stor ljudkonstnär i trumpetaren och
elektronikspelaren Birgit Ulher. Hon hör till generationen efter Axel
Dörner. Även hon har främmandegjort sitt instrument. Men hon skapar
något helt annat än sin berlinske kollega. Hennes värld är ljudkonsten.
Hon är plastisk. Metalliska klockklanger, fetfuktiga luftslingor rör sig
närmast koreografiskt i luftrummet. Också på mycket små ytor.

Tillsammans bygger de tre en spröd konstruktion som mer liknar en
ljudinstallation än ett stycke musik. Det betyder att tidselementets
flöde är mindre betonat. Närmast svetsar och fräser de luftrummet till
något som innehåller mycket tomrymd och rum. Det blir till sist en
känsla av att de med flit rör sig i utkanterna av mellanhålorna i
ljudskulpturen, tecknar detta vita, bländande. Det är mycket vackert på
ett smärtfyllt och skärande vis.

Jag tycker att denna trio ger det minimalistiska spelsättet en raison
d’etre, ett existensberättigande. De låter nämligen den snittyta som
uppstår i musiken vid omdefinitionen av instrumenten öppna sig mot den
plastiska - och även performativa konsten - eftersom här är en annan
snittyta, den där skulpturen slutat vara objekt och övergått till
efemära händelser i rummet. Det är en genial praxis, och Ulher behärskar
den suveränt tillsammans med Kerbaj och Sehnaoui.

in german:
Hier begegnen sich drei Klangmusiker die sich daran freuen ihre Instrumente zu verfremden. Mazen Kerbaj und Sharif Sehnaoui kommen aus der blühenden Avantgardeszene in Beirut. Kerbaj wurde weltweit bekannt als er vor zwei Jahren Trompete zu den israelischen Bomben spielte. Für ihn waren Explosionen, Schüsse und Männer mit Waffen ein normales Umfeld als er aufwuchs. Auch der Gitarrist Sharif Sehnaoui war er ein junger Mann während des Bürgerkrieges, der für beide eine Art Alltag, ein Klangboden war, woran sie sich gewöhnten.
Es klingt vielleicht absurd, was mir beide erzählt haben, dass alle diese Geräusche und tödlichen Erreignisse letzlich auch zum normalen Leben gehörten. Und aus dieser absurder Situtation ist die Musik gewachsen. Wie könnten sie dann noch 'schön spielen'? Sharif fing mit Jazzmusik an und wollte auch Mazen dazu bewegen, was ihm aber nicht gelang. Die Instrumente wurden dann ”überprüft”, die Geräusche wurden zu neuen, harten, metallischen und repetetiven Klängen.
Konkrete Klänge mit echten Instrumenten.
Kerbaj spielt expressiv aber auch ein bisschen zurückhaltend, während Sehnaouis Art viel einfacher ist, da er durch Applikationen in den Saiten Vibrationen erzeugt und kleine kurze Rhythmen. Als glaube er nicht an sein Instrument, als denke er die Gitarre könne nicht mehr als das, oder er möchte nicht der Versuchung des Jazz erliegen. Für uns bleiben kleine Scherben der Musik. Sehnaoui und Kerbaj spielen dicht zusammen, man hört manchmal nicht wer was spielt. Sie gehen derart mit den Tönen um, dass nur der harte Kern der Musik übrig bleibt.
Aus Hamburg kommt eine grosse Klangkünstlerin der Trompete, Birgit Ulher. Sie gehört der Generation von Axel Dörner an. Auch sie hat ihr Instrument verfremdet. Aber sie schafft etwas ganz anders als ihr Kollege aus Berlin. Ihre Welt ist die Klangkunst, ihre Musik ist plastisch. Im Luftraum bewegen sich fast choreographisch metallische Klänge, Bewegungen der Luft, sensuell und physisch. Auch wenn die mögliche Bewegungsfläche sehr klein und begrenzt ist.
Zusammen erschaffen die drei eine spröde Konstruktion, die mehr einer Klanginstallation ähnelt als Musik. Was bedeutet dass der Fluss der Zeit wenig betont ist. Eher fräsen und schweissen sie zusammen den Luftraum und verwandeln ihn in etwas was viel Leeraum enthält, aber auch Raum. Das Ganze klingt wie die Zwischenräume einer Plastik. Es ist sehr schön in einer schmerzhaften Art.
Meiner Ansicht nach geben diese drei MusikerInnen der minimalistischen Art zu spielen eine raison d´etre. Die Schnittfläche, die entsteht wenn die Instrumente verfremdet werden, nähert sich der plastischen und performativen Kunst. Hier ist eine Schnittfläche, wo die Plastik kein Objekt mehr ist und sich in ephemere Geschehnisse im Raum verwandelt. Das ist eine geniale Praxis, und Ulher beherrscht sie total zusammen mit Kerbaj und Sehnaoui.

Thomas Millroth (Soundofmusic)

Jazz e Arredores

É difícil saber que processos empregam Mazen Kerbaj, Birgit Ulher e Sharif Sehnaoui para produzir os sons invulgares que se ouvem em 3:1, saída recente na Creative Sources (CS#110). Gravado em Hamburgo, Alemanha, em Junho de 2006, sabe-se apenas que os músicos utilizam trompetes e guitarra acústica. Nada mais. Por muito que possa parecer, não há adição de electrónica ou de quaisquer efeitos estranhos ao acto de tocar aqueles instrumentos. Fazem-no, é certo, do menos convencional e heterodoxo que se conhece. No caso de Birgit Ulher e Mazen Kerbaj, dois dos mais relevantes artistas da moderna música improvisada, além da aplicação de um vasto arsenal de técnicas que exploram as propriedades acústicas do instrumento considerado em toda a sua extensão, corpo físico interior e exterior, através do sopro, sorvo, sucção, gorgolejo, vocalizo e de tudo o mais que não é possível descortinar sem ver. Por vezes, parece ouvir-se um motor ou qualquer outro aparelho capaz de produzir vibrações contínuas, além da respiração circular, bem entendido, que sugerem figuras como o arrastar metálico de intensidade variável e toda uma série de impressões que remetem para uma intensa actividade em formas de vida alienígena. O mesmo se passa, com as devidas adaptações, com o trabalho da guitarra acústica. Sharif Sehnaoui só muito raramente dela extrai sons que se possam reconduzir a categorias que fazem parte da memória sonora do instrumento, àquilo que vulgarmente se identifica como tendo por fonte um cordofone com determinada forma e sonoridade. A panóplia de técnicas, das mais abrasivas às suaves em extremo, e as inusitadas formas de abordagem do instrumento, emparceiram com as dos colegas trompetistas, sendo virtualmente impossível atribuir com certeza o quê a quem. Nesta medida, há muito aqui que escapa ao entendimento do ouvinte comum, uma paleta sonora que surpreende quem ainda não esteja familiarizado com as novas correntes da música improvisada e os seus ousados planos criativos. A causa destes músicos é a invenção, não apenas de técnicas de execução e do alargamento do léxico instrumental, mas sobretudo de uma nova poética musical ancorada em sinais que estão para além dos limites que se reconhecem. É toda uma nova experiência criativa que, da aparente bizarria iconoclasta, nos transporta para um mundo ficcional em que é possível reconhecer vestígios do mundo natural e cultural que habitamos no dia a dia. Por tudo o que sugere e desperta, o trabalho do trio germânico-libanês, criado com desvelo e dedicação, emociona e estimula a imaginação, envolvência formada por uma miríade de pontos de luz. Recomendável, em especial a quem se interesse por modos fora do comum de produzir e organizar sons..

Eduardo Chagas, Jazz e Arredores

Bad Alchemy

3 : 1 endet das Match von MAZEN KERBAJ, BIRGIT ULHER & SHARIF SEHNAOUI gegen den Rest der Welt. Wobei das Gegentor ein Eigentor war, die Welt hatte nie auch nur den Hauch einer Chance. Eine Hamburgerin und zwei Libanesen, zwei Trompeten verkehrt und eine akustische Gitarre, mit flirrenden Stäbchen und Fäden traktiert. Verzopfte Schmauchspuren, spuckiges Schlürfen, blubbrige, gurrende, schnarrende Furzeleien, mit knisternder, zirpender, drahtig knarzender Geheimschrift eingeritzt. So sehen Sieger aus.

Rigo Dittmann, ba 59


Connexion libanaise entre Paris, où réside le guitariste Sharif Sehnaoui, Beyrouth d’où le trompettiste Mazen Kerbaj s’est fait connaître par son blog durant la dernière guerre avec Israël et Hamburg, la ville de la trompettiste Birgit Ulher où cet enregistrement a été réalisé en juin 2006 sous la houlette de Hrolfur Vagnsson, un excellent preneur de son. Vibrations de la colonne d’air, échappements sonores à l’intérieur des tubes, souffles contenus, bruissements parcimonieux à la limite de l’infra – son, soubresauts amortis des pistons, tous ces éléments flottent et se superposent. Un dialogue s’installe au ralenti. Impossible de distinguer la guitare électrique. Au fur et à mesure que le temps s’avance, le bruitage s’agglutine au son, des gestes s’esquissent. 1 : 0 s’anime. Le défi réside à écarter phrases et intervalles pour laisser se répondre et se répandre des sons bruts, sans éclats, résonances dans le pavillon et frottements de guitares. Des atmosphères contrastées naissent d’un accord spontané. L’oubli de l’instrument tel que le pratique le trio nous rapproche le plus près possible de l’esthétique qui émane de la peinture non figurative la plus abstraite. Pas de couleurs vives. Les 5’42’’ de 2 : 0 contiennent des coups de lèvres insensés qui mènent à des bruits de moteur. Birgit Ulher transcende tous ses élans passés dans l’instant présent. Half Time est une pièce curieuse, avec ces bruitages étonnamment aquatiques. Mon copain Jim Denley disait qu’il n’était plus possible d’écouter de la trompette de la même façon après avoir entendu Franz Hautzinger et Axel Dörner. Voici deux souffleurs de l’impossible : la méta – trompette de 2008 !.

Jean Michel Van Schouwburg

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