Stephen Altoft / Gilbert Isbin - Soundcapes

Stephen Altoft / Gilbert Isbin  - Soundcapes


Jazz’halo TS032

If you know Gilbert Isbin as a composer and improviser for classical guitar and lute, this album is quite a departure. The guitar sounds are electronic and often abstract, the sound world pointillistic and the harmonies often tense. However, there has always been an avant garde side to Isbin's work. Trumpet and flugelhorn maestro Stephen Altoft is also at home with both composed and improvised music and keen to push boundaries.

The 16 tracks here run into each other with striking contrasts between each. Soundscape 1 is reverberant and ambient with flutter tongued trumpet, Soundscape 2 is much drier and more rhythmic. The sounds are programmed with a lot of imagination - no sign of generic synth sounds or presets - and evolve through each piece. Isbin uses a Triple Play midi pickup for guitar with a range of plug-ins as well as sounds from his Sibelius software.

Soundscape 4 is spacious and economical with an intimate, expressive flugelhorn voice reminding me of Arve Henrikson's recent ECM recordings. The guitar fades in and out with bell like overtones. Then number 5 brings split tone voicings and growls from flugelhorn before the following track combines abrasive harmonic mute with metallic percussion from the guitar.

Although there is plenty of post-production and sound sculpting, the impression is of joint improvisation with two instruments complementing each other. All the pieces are joint compositions.

Soundscape 7 has swooping birdsong phrases from trumpet whilst the restless guitar voicings include vocal and orchestral samples. Actual guitar sounds appear for the only time on Soundscape 9, demonstrating that even when Isbin is improvising freely he manages to create tunes. Soundscape 12 begins with luminous orchestral effects which reminded me of Alban Berg before percussion sounds and "computer" sound effects take it in a hip-hop direction.

Altoft plays trumpet and flugelhorn in microtones, having converted his instruments to play either 24 on 19 divisions to the octave, as well as the usual 12. To be honest, I can't tell which setup he uses for each piece - he bends notes too - but the playing is strikingly expressive.

Isbin and Altoft are both composers and co-incidentally have both written ukulele pieces for Donald Bousted, who was Stephen's long term musical collaborator. Their compositional thinking runs through these pieces and joint improvisation turns out to be the perfect way for them to collaborate.

Atonality returns for the energetic Soundscape 14, fluttering trumpet juxtaposed with equally fractured sounds from guitar synth. Then we're in ambient territory again for 15, which builds gradually to the flight of a bumblebee confused by microtones! The album ends with a mysterious combination of reversed guitar and pitch-bending trumpet.

Every track is different and none outstays its welcome, but they work together in an immersive album of kaleidoscopic colour. Highly recommended.

© Stephen Godsall - cover art © Marie-Anne Ver Eecke



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