A live Composition Festival!

Most of us know the wisdom of the old saying: "too many cooks spoil the broth". What occurs when, not one, but four composers share the responsibility for a real-time performance work? The Rivière Ensemble chosen by bassist Kent Carter for the summer 2009 session answered this question with eloquence and beauty. Aside the sheer acoustic richness in the setting of two winds interacting with two strings, it is the stunning reality of how collective creativity can surpass the individual composing-imposing mode that makes this CD a unique experience.Some parts of this magic can be examined analytically: the connections between these improvising composers go back twenty-five years.

In this quarter of a century, they were able to explore all facets of writing, while performing and recording each other’s ideas not to mention fun evenings around a meal and a drink. This familiarity gave all present the confidence to go beyond personal wishes notated on paper and to take up the challenge of embracing the unknown. Then what about element of surprise essential to any spontaneous musical meeting? The fact that this particular quartet formation was new to all more than kept us all on our toes. The listening process from duo to trio to quartet set-ups changes dramatically, the latter often clamouring for more space.

What impresses me the most (now as a listener) is the collective control of form. This type of sensitivity involves not only listening intensely to the present moment but imagining the formal arch of the composition while actually storing the memory of what has been played, thus enabling the music to propel itself forward free from redundancy. At each step of the creative process, all members of the quartet are tracking the evolution of the blossoming artistic entity. Then, mysteriously, in places of extreme liberating density, the composers came to the realisation that they were simultaneously serving the course of the musical stream itself. Without any false mysticism, this sonic reality may be referred to as a high acoustic consciousness that supersedes the rational side of the brain by directly targeting the artistic soul. This state is a rare and and exquisite one, displaying the coordination of aural information, instrumental reflex and formal perception within the quartet. The intensity never dropped nor left the stage for even a second.

These are concerts that we all dream about and hope to experience within a lifetime. Fortunately for those not present, the recording was excellent, the mastering handled with care without a detail lost thus guaranteeing the emotional impact of the session. I feel as if I have co-signed a score written in the heavens and am extremely proud to have been a part of the Rivière Composers Module.

Etienne Rolin march 2010


It is rare for Emanem to issue a three-CD album, but whenever it happens they are a bit special—witness the most recently recorded one, Strings with Evan Parker, from 2001, plus the label's two excellent Iskra 1903 compilations. Now, to join such exalted company, comes Summer Works 2009, an album which more than deserves its place alongside them.

The album features duo, trio and quartet performances by members of the Rivière Composers' Pool - Kent Carter on bass, Theo Jörgensmann on low G clarinet, Etienne Rolin on B flat clarinet, basset horn and alto flute, and Albrecht Maurer on violin and viola. It was recorded in August and September 2009, in concert and in studio sessions near Carter's home in Angoulême, south-west France. Rolin's sleeve notes say that the ensemble was "chosen by Kent Carter for the summer 2009 sessions," which may indicate that Carter had some leadership role; he certainly plays more than the others, appearing on all but two of the 28 tracks. There are long-established links between Carter and each of the other three, and also between the Germans Jörgensmann and Maurer, but this was the first time that all four had played together.

The four are all experienced improvisers—actually, spontaneous composers—and their summer works did not involve any premeditated structures. As Rolin notes, "familiarity with each other gave all present the confidence to go beyond personal wishes notated on paper...The fact that this particular formation was new to all of us more than kept us all on our toes." Crucially, that balance between familiarity and freshness is reflected in the music.

The album opens with a trio session from August 27 featuring Jörgensmann, Maurer and Carter; which is both an exploration and a warm-up session for the concert the following day. With no percussion or accompanying chordal instruments, the combination of clarinet plus violin and bass gives the music a sense of freedom as well as an inherent structure; the players have no problems establishing their places within that structure yet are not ruled by it; again, the balance between familiarity and freshness is vital. Both Jörgensmann and Maurer figure prominently, one to the fore then another, their soaring melodic lines interweaving highly effectively. Carter's bass frequently underpins their playing, on occasion becoming entwined too. The music goes beyond being preparation for the concert, having its own appealing lightness and freedom.

The following day, Rolin is present for two lengthy quartet performances, one recorded before the concert, the other at the concert itself. The addition of Rolin's instruments to the soundscape makes it richer and also allows more possibilities, most notably the interactions of two wind instruments, which is highlighted in a fine clarinet/flute duo. The quasi-classical titling of the quartet pieces—with "The Summer Works Suite" being subdivided into seven parts and "The Summer Works Concert" consisting of four movements—may raise expectations of a sense of formal structure and unity than is not actually present in the music.

True, the concert piece does open with all the brooding gravitas of a classical composition—bowed bass notes overlaid with understated clarinet phrases—but soon enough it develops into a free-flowing improvised piece in which the players trade phrases and respond to each other in kind; all four clearly have an ear on the overall shape of the piece, and it naturally evolves an easy pastoral mood with no-one obviously steering or leading it. Quite simply, it is a first rate improvisation or, rather, spontaneous composition—with the emphasis definitely on spontaneous.

The album is completed by a duo session between Carter and Rolin, recorded over a fortnight after the concert. Its inclusion gives a pleasing sense of completeness to the album. The duo matches the rest of the album for quality—which is praise indeed. It is easy to hear why Summer Works 2009 was released as a three-CD album; there is so much excellent music here that even to pare it back to a double-CD album would have meant sacrificing some valuable gems.

John Eyles, All about jazz

.... To my ear, their music displays classical melodic contours and gestures – a sense of tension in the anticipation of how their interactive details will resolve harmonically; frequent manipulation of tonal gravity to dramatic effect and brief but pungent textural effects. (Rolin tends to be more extravagant in this regard than the linear, lyrical Jörgensmann, and he adds alto flute on occasion for another color.) Their formal relationships are sympathetic and transparent – often it’s possible to follow the improvisational logic as they find and then sustain the nature of a specific piece. Dance-like, animated rhythms contrast with fluid or crisp counterpoint and more complex exchanges and designs. But it’s the group empathy – the roles they adopt in interacting to shape and reshape the music – that creates the convincing, engaging balance of formal proportion and surprising detail. This is what improvisation can bring to compositional procedures, and the members of the Rivière Composers’ Pool show how ensemble improvisation has become a medium not just of freedom, but of trust.

from a great review by Art Lange©2010

Summer Works 2009 sounds exactly like its title reads: bright, sunny, playful, and time-conditioned. It brings together four great musicians from European improv (Kent Carter, Etienne Rolin, Theo Jörgensmann, and Albrecht Maurer) in a series of concerts which resulted in –relatively speaking- a very compact three hours of music. Like summer, the album is diverse in its color palette, swaying with the architectural thoughtfulness of Braxton, driving very precise points of Webernian scale (impossibly rich fractures of reality created by pure simplicity), and permanently flowing with creativity...

... In the end, this is a good album featuring excellent players; divided into three (pretty much stand-alone) discs, it will surely provide some great fun in these times of summer (at least for the northern hemisphere people) in which we can also play and improvise within the great undrawn plan of our lives.

As Dante put it (more or less), I'm currently midway on the path from enfant terrible to grumpy old fart, and less inclined these days to be patient with stuff that requires a big investment of time and stamina, so my eyebrows headed upwards when I saw that this four-way improv encounter was issued at luxuriant 3-CD length. But bassist Kent Carter is one of the least austere, most sheerly pleasurable of improvisers—his discs on Emanem are among the most approachable things in the label's catalogue, mingling chamber-improv with detailed compositional frameworks—and he's certainly not prolific. And the generous presentation here, it turns out, is entirely justified.
This meeting of four composer-improvisers—an unusual two-clarinet, two-strings lineup—took place at Carter's behest in August/September 2009. The set includes recordings made in the studio adjoining the bassist's home in Juillaguet (near Angoulême, in southwest France) and performances from a church in Sers. Each session has its own flavour. Disc A—a trio of Carter, violinist/violist Albrecht Maurer (mainstay of Carter's recent projects) and clarinettist Theo Jörgensmann—has a folk-jazz vibe very much in the tradition of Jimmy Giuffre. Maurer injects a sardonic lyricism, though, that Martin Davidson in his liners rightly suggests owes something to Stravinsky. Often it involves jumping into unexpected registers or outlandish timbres, as in the twittering baroque fiddling that ends "Suite of Actions". There's lots of wit and sprightly rhythmic play here—check out the simultaneous multiple tempos of "Pinwheel" and Jörgensmann's Benny Goodman-goes-nuts spree on "Dance to This", for instance—though my favourite piece is the sombrest, "Music for a Ghost Story".
Disc B begins with duets between Carter and Etienne Rolin (clarinet, basset horn and alto flute), the latter probably the least familiar musician here. Despite his Francophone name, he's American-born like Carter, though he has been resident in France for most of his life. He's easily distinguished from Jörgensmann, favouring sinuous, run-together lines full of contradictory gestures and expressive exaggerations—perhaps it's significant that Rolin's bio note indicates his specialty is "improvisation through soundpainting".
The remainder of Disc B and all of Disc C are by the full quartet—tracks recorded just before and during a public performance at the church in Sers. The live performance is especially magical: long, rich passages of droning counterpoint suggest a Renaissance consort of viols, but there are also rhythmic/melodic games with multi-speed canons and metrical overlays (at one point Maurer starts beating out a snappy 3-against-2 on his fiddle), as well as a few moments of slowly ascending conflagration. The lightness and translucency of the group's palette is appealing—especially when (as at the start of the second track) Rolin shifts to flute—and the musicians' preference for actually playing their instruments as God intended them to be played draws out a wider, more surprising range of timbres than I've heard in most improv that focuses narrowly on extended technique. Carter's firmly placed lines and occasional tendency to snap percussively at the other players' heels keep everything lively, too. All told, 3 hours of great music, which fly by with nary a dull or cluttered moment: chalk another one up to Emanem.–ND

3 CD Box:

CD A (53:13)

Trio (KC / TJ / AM) studio session

CD B (72:14)

Duo (KC / ER) studio session

Quartet before concert

CD C (59:19)

Quartet in Concert

erhältlich bei:



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Rivière Composers`Pool

Theo Jörgensmann - Bassettklarinette

Albrecht Maurer - Violine, Stimme

Kent Carter - Kontrabass

Etienne Rolin - Basset Horn, Querflöten

Emanem London 2010


Summer Works