Music Reviews

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Artist: LHZ + H (@)
Title: Scope
Format: CD
Label: Monotype Records (@)
Rated: *****
LHZ + H are Thomas Lehn - analogue synthesizer; Carl Ludwig Hubsch - tuba; Philip Zoubek - piano; and Franz Hautzinger - quartertone trumpet & delay, all from Germany. Lehn has an extensive academic background in recording engineering, classical and jazz piano, and electronic music, particularly modern composition and the avant-garde. In 1989 he initiated the chamber ensemble Trio Dario and four years later the Mengano Quartett, performing compositions of the contemporary avant-garde, in particular numerous first performances of commissioned works. Lehn has recorded with Marcus Schmickler, Keith Rowe, John Butcher, Phil Minton, Phil Durrant, Radu Malfatti, Axel Dorner, Cor Fuhler, Gerry Hemingway, Andy Moor of The Ex, and is a member of the electronic orchestra M.I.M.E.O. (Music In Movement Electronic Orchestra), as well as numerous other projects and collaborations. Carl Ludwig Hubsch grew up playing clarinet in the local brass band and drums in punk and rock bands, but around 1983 he exchanged the clarinet for a tuba. He also has an academic background in singing, music theory, drums, composition, and electronic music. Besides his own projects like Hubsch's Longrun Development of the Universe, Drift and Hubsch's Primordial Soup, he founded the ENSEMBLE X and co-leads the Multiple Joy[ce] Orchestra together with Matthias Schubert and Frank Gratkowski. Hubsch is part of many collective projects and ensembles and works as side man in various projects. Philip Zoubek studied jazz piano at the Viennese Conservatorium and the Musikhochschule in Cologne. He now plays in various jazz and improv ensembles in Cologne, Vienna, Zurich and Berlin, including Ensemble Creativ, Org, Cauldron, Camera Obscura, Ubik, James Choice Orchestra and Muche/Zoubek/Tang, and with the group Snaut, among other projects. At present Philip Zoubek is mainly occupied with his own ensemble Philz. Trumpeter Franz Hautzinger studied trumpet and composition at the Graz Academy of Music and the Performing Arts and at the Vienna Conservatory. He started on the Austrian jazz scene in the late '80s, recording a handful of albums for the Extraplatte label mostly as a member of the groups Muhlbacher usw., Nouvelle Cuisine, and Striped Roses. After a three-year recording hiatus from 1998 to 2000, during which time he extensively radicalized his sound, Hautzinger came back with the solo CD Gomberg (2000) and the debut by his group Dachte Musik (2001), both released by the then up-and-coming German label Grob. These, and his participation in the composers' ensemble Zeitkratzer brought his playing to the attention of an international avant-garde audience at the beginning of the 21st century. Whew! Those are extensive and impressive bios to be certain (and to a great degree, condensed), and I have to admit I'm a little intimidated in my capacity as a reviewer for this CD. Still, it all boils down to how the compositions actually sound, and you're about to find out.

'Scope' contains four tracks in about 45 minutes that makes good use of the combined talents and the collaborative instrumentation of the four participants. While Thomas Lehn seems to be the most active player overall, there is no jockeying to be heard, little in the way of stepping on toes (except when required), and the execution of a well-oiled 'weird machine' where everyone contributes just what is needed to give these pieces life and depth. The album opens with 'Zoom,' a piece a little over 12 minutes in length. It begins very low-key, and continues that way through most it with quiet tones from the horns, sparse piano sounds and subtle but ominous synth tones, drones, burblings and atmospherics. There is a palpable tension here threatening to burst forth into a cacophonous riot especially towards the end, but never does. Perhaps an exercise in restraint, 'Zoom' doesn't zoom, it more looms like a most uneasy soundscape. It ends seamlessly merging into the title track 'Scope,' the longest on the album at nearly 17 minutes. Here there are more percussive sounds provided by synth and piano; plinks, plunks, notes, noise and noises, scraping, rattling, bird-like sounds, ringing, etc., with soft moaning horn tones. Activity is intermittent, and little is constant with an impressive amount of variety. This is a fascinating sonic environment that sounds like it could have been a field recording in some electronic alternate universe. Business picks up more than halfway through the piece and there is a shift to louder dynamics and heightened activity. Sounds careen and collide; horns are emboldened staggering drunkenly; monstrous rumblings from the piano, and a variety of synthetic noises. It all subsides before the end into stray, sparse, brief sonic elements. 'Lense' (9:40) begins with sustained muted horn tones and occasional interjection of noises from Lehn's synthesizer. Except for the obvious, it is often difficult to tell what sonic element is being created by whom, and this feels like the most electronic piece on the album. Before it's over things get a bit frenzied and chaotic, like some mechanized junkyard sculpture coming alive despite the intent of its awestruck creator to remain static. 'Hal' is the shortest piece on 'Scope' and to me, is more typical of what might be expected in a collaboration of this sort, with nods to Berio, Cage, Stockhausen, Tudor, Varèse and Lamonte Young. There is quite a bit more activity and participation from the participants making this a very satisfying improvisation and fitting close to the album. There is no final resolution though; it just ends and you may hardly notice that it did.

For those who appreciate avant-garde music and/or unusual improvisation, 'Scope' is an intriguing prospect, and one that may have you coming back for more of its enigmatic flavor.



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