Last month, I attended the CD release of Emergency Rental at the Meridian Gallery. Emergency Rental is a collaboration between the Emergency String (X)tet and Rent Romus “exploring sound in and outside the elements of free improvisation between saxophone and strings.”
The personnel for the Emergency String (X)tet changes (hence the “x”), but does have a stable core of regulars. Founder Bob Marsh was joined by Doug Carroll on cello, with Adria Otte, Angela Hsu and Jonathan Segel on violins, Kanoko Nishi on bass koto, and Tony Dryer on contrabass.
Overall, the music moved back and forth seamlessly between free improvisation with extended techniques and passages that borrowed from more idiomatic jazz ideas. Early on, there was a bit of a shuffle beat and jazz-like saxophone lines set against more anxious tones from the strings, a mixture of both long tones and pizzicato. There were times when the saxophone and strings seemed to match one another in both tone and musical structure, such as a section that featured glissandi and scraping tones. The next section featured long bass notes and more scratching melodies set against a very lyrical saxophone line. This gave way to loud growling saxophone against a rich pad of strings.
One piece focused on extended techniques, including prepared strings with chopsticks and other items placed between the strings and bodies of the instruments – something I have often seen the Emergency String (X)tet do. Doug Carroll also reoriented his cello upside-down and sideways at various times. Romus played his saxophone without a mouthpiece, blowing directly into the body the way one might on a brass instrument. He also used a sound that I dubbed the “angry breath noises.”
The second half started off very percussive, and even though the ensemble was entirely acoustic, this section reminded me of the analog electronics in early electronic music like Stockhausen’s Kontakte. This segued into a more idiomatic duo of saxophone and walking bass was set against atonal glissandi from the other strings. There were other interesting sections, such as a syncopated rhythm that came together and broke apart, and a section of pure percussion by all the instruments that reminded me of tapping and bouncing balls.
Emergency Rental, which marks Romus’ 25th album release, is available from Edgetone Records.