Recorded: March 22 and 23, Soundville Studios, Lucerne, Switzerland
Originally released on Bellaphon in 1996 and reissued by Leo Records in 2002, this eponymous CD is Pago Libre's second opus. The quartet was in their creative peak and delivered a masterpiece of light avant-garde jazz. "Light" because the music still relies on melodies, swing, and a certain dose of entertainment value; avant-garde because the writing includes daring harmonies, extended techniques, and the kind of creativity that immediately signals that we are not in mainstream land. Tscho Theissing (violin), Arkady Shilkloper (French horn), John Wolf Brennan (piano), and Daniele Patumi (double bass) all contribute compositions, but the best moments are found in the violinist's pieces. Highlights include "Rochade," a witty opener driven by a 15/8 riff; the solemn "Als Die Spatlese Noch Vor Sich Hungarte," where each member of the quartet gets to stretch over a romantic theme; "J.P.S. (& Carla)," where Theissing performs his impression of Stephane Grappelli; and the humorous "Wake up Call" (which, incidentally, became the title track of the group's live album released in 1998 on Leo). That is not to say the other tunes hold no interest. The four parts of Patumi's "Suite Stream of Consciousness," scattered throughout the album, act as short textural tableaux, nice contrasts to the melodic material. The liveliness of this music invites comparisons to Italian jazzmen the likes of Mario Schiano, Pino Minafra, and Carlo Actis Dato, although it never uses their flamboyant colors. Instead, the French horn (a rarity in this field) brings with it an aura of chamber music, something intimate and felt-like.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Pago libre is the second CD of the band Pago Libre. The name, sonorous and beautiful, sounds mysteriously unclear like one of those Latin catchwords: it rings a bell, you almost feel it, and think you know what it means, until you try to verbalize it. Then you feel how it slips out of your hands and escapes any easy interpretations. The feeling is not quite unsimilar to the impression one gets from the music of the quartet: transparent and clear at the first hearing, it defies simple or fast definitions. Now firm, lucid and steady in its structure like a classical composition; now driving, edgy and freely flowing like jazz; then again simple, melodic and playful like a folk tune, it embraces all of these, as well as many other influences into a composite but coherent and harmonious whole.
I first met John Wolf Brennan in Zurich during the milestone Soviet Avant Jazz Festival in 1989. I went home with a bunch of John's recordings -solo piano and duos, mostly with saxophonist Urs Leimgruber. Especially memorable was Entupadas, a vocal and lyrical escapade, rich in sound and timbres, with the voice of Rhaeto-Romanic singer Corin Curschellas wrought over John's dense piano textures. Overall the records - reflective, meditative, impressionistic - were quite typical for euro-jazz: the Western European chamber jazz idiom. Still, with all the "typicality" of his music, Brennan was hard to be categorized: Irish born, English speaking Swiss resident with influences ranging from Paul Bley to John Cage, from Gaelic folklore to Oriental rhythmic structures seemed like a phenomenon in itself. The latest album Shooting Stars & Traffic Lights (L+R/Bella-phon 45090, Frankfurt 1995) features his Pago Libre pals Theissing and Patumi as well as Swiss saxophonist John Voirol and the exceptional American percussionist and drummer, Alex Cline.
We lost touch for a while until John resurfaced in my life this May - in St.Petersburg. He came to Russia to perform at "Alternativa" - a marathon new music festival in Moscow organized by critic and producer Dmitry Ukhov. At the St.Petersburg Spring Festival he not only performed his third piano cycle Text, Context, Co-Text & Co-Co-Text, but also co-led two sextet concerts with another Zurich 1989 alumnus, trumpeter Slava Gayvoronsky (featuring cellist Victor Sobolenko, among others). It was during this visit that I was introduced to the music of Pago Libre. The name is the acronym of the initials of the four musicians who founded the band in 1989: Italian bassist Daniele Patumi, American violinist Steve Goodman, Swedish trumpet player Lars Lindvall and John Wolf Brennan. Personnel changes didn't affect the original name - its connotations stretch far beyond the initials. If you twist Italian grammar a bit, it means "I pay freely". Spiced with a taste of Pago, an Austrian fruit juice mixed with Vodka o Rum, and ennobled by other virtuous connotations (Libreria, Liberty), the name stuck. The basic instrumental structure is a "string section" - 4 bass, 4 violin and 88 piano strings - complemented by a brilliant brass instrument. There is no drummer and no obvious leader - rhythmic functions are almost equally distributed among the band. Bouncing piano chords and Patumi's powerful and rich double bass sound become pivotal as a harmonic and rhythmic foundation, the basis for the overall compositional structures. Brennan demonstrates excellent feeling for the ensemble interaction. He doesn't inhibit himself in soloing either - check, for instance, his reflective intro into J.P.S.(Carla). Compositionally Brennans pieces are most diverse - in Tupti-Kulai he more than once changes styles, tempos ans rhythms, resorting even to a most peculiar 19/8 rhythm which - believe it or not - swings like hell!
Viennese violinist Tscho Theissing, who replaced Steve Goodman as early as 1990, is a featured soloist in most pieces. His aggressively piercing violin dominates the top range of Pago Libre's sound palette. He's witty and fanny. His phrasing is rich in endless contextual connotations of compositions, ranging from Alban Berg to Charlie Mingus, from gypsy music to Frank Zappa. As a member of the Motus string quartet, he has established himself as one of the most promising musicians in Europe. Along with Brennan he's a main contributor of compositions for Pago Libre - his J.RS. (Carlo) is a dedicated tribute to Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, Steve Swallow and, of course, Carla Bley -the true pioneers of 'chamber jazz' who played essentially modern music back in the early sixties. Rochade, as a contrast, is a piece full of dynamic might and power.
Daniele Patumi, born in Umbria, the ancient centre of Italy, with its subterranean legacy of Etruscan, Celtic and African culture, is one of the most interesting and original bassists on the old continent. He is currently member of the Italian group Nexus, Pino Minafra's Sud Ensemble and has worked with Herb Robertson, Marty Cook, Gianluigi Trovesi, Roberto Laneri and others. His duo album TEN ZENTEN-CES (L+R 45066) with John Wolf Brennan was voted "Miglior disco del anno '93 "by Piero Amari, "Musica Jazz" magazine. Recently, this duo has been complemented by flutist Robert Dick from New York. Patumis major compositional contribution is his suite Stream of Consciousness with four very different parts - introspective Source, driving Roots, ecstatic African Flower and danceable Gift - scattered throughout the album, demonstrating a startling width of his conceptual palette.
Arkady Shilkloper comes from Moscow. The Russian horn player first got to international jazz prominence at the same Zurich Festival in 1989 as a member of TRI-O. Later he played in a duo with pianist Mikhail Alperin (CDs Wave of Sorrow, Moscow Art Trio) and earned a solid international reputation. Shilkoper, a versatile musician with impeccable timing and technique, is equally strong as a soloist (Wake Up Call, Seconds), in ensemble setting and as composer - in his Interludi, the transparent and timbrally clear intro dominated by almost medieval French horn sound flows into a jerky and jazzy middle part, where the sound becomes coarse and rough - real "dirty". In the classical symphony orchestra, the horn functions as traditional hinge, helping to blend the sound of the strings with the brass. Played by Arkady, it opens a whole new universe of brass and wind sounds, from razor-sharp high altitude "trumpet" registers right down to trombone or even tuba depths. As Jeffrey Agrell, the American editor of "Horn-call" magazine, put it: "Shilkloper swings like nobody's business. He rips and riffs and goes places that horn players aren't supposed to go without a net, map, seat belt, crash helmet, overhead air support, and a note from their mothers. And he does so with extraordinary musicality. I think maybe nobody ever told him "Jazz playing on horn is very difficult, and probably not natural", or perhaps the phrase does not translate into Russian. I'd walk a camel a mile to hear this guy."
Arkady met the Pago Libre "string section" for the first time in October 1994 in Vienna in "Porgy & Bess", a jazzclub run by Vienna Art Orchestra leader Matthias Ruegg. His horn ideally complemented and reflected both the "stringissimo" and "pianissimo" approach and emerged - "cornissimo"!
They rehearsed for three hours (!) and then played the gig the same night - that was it.
Thus came together this band. Comprised of equally strong musicians, all classically trained, with an embraceable knowledge of the jazz, classical and ethnic music heritage. Each with his own distinctive individual voice and original ideas. What's probably even more important - they all share the same vision of music: compositionally challenging and loose in feeling, loaded with multilayered, complex textures, but possessing the "primitive" charm of folklore and "vulgar rhythms" (described as "imaginary folk music"), unmistakeably serious in its intentions but executed with an obvious tongue-in-cheek attitude. A music for the future.
- Alexander Kan (St.Petersburg, Russia. November 1995)