Bo van de Graaf - tenorsax/compositions
Simin Tander - voice
Tessa Zoutendijk - violin
Mark Peters - Loops and edits
midifiles, soundscapes, conversations with Sonny Rollins and people on the streets of New York, Subway musicians etc.
1 Ticket 5:44
2 q-line 3: 35
3 Rainbow on 42nd street 5:40
4 Afrithing 1;35
5 mr. Rollins could I have your autograph ? 8:01
Marianne Brouwer - Cover
Ticket, the latest from I Company leader Bo van de Graaf, is the second of two musical tributes to New York City to come out in 2004 (the other being El-P’s Thirsty Ear Records release High Water). But unlike that electronic-tinged Matthew Shipp/El-P collaboration, Ticket (specifically, a “musical impression of the NYC subway”) is an abstract construction rich in concrete musique sound collages and centered around van de Graaf’s lyrical and emotive tenor saxophone.
The Dutch-born van de Graaf opens Ticket with the piercing cry of his horn soaring high over Tessa Zoutendijk’s melancholy violin. With a glorious flyby, the composer introduces his listening audience to a mad-paced mass of commuters coming and going through the subway station. Simin Tander lends her voice to this track and again on “Q Line,” where she reads subway line announcements over a glitchy soundscape.
On the title track, and in fact throughout most of the record, van de Graaf’s horn is what holds our focus. Through his interpretive playing, the composer gives us an audio interpretation of the city's multisonic subway system. With multiple found sounds and textured ambiances attacking our senses, van de Graaf’s wraps us in a veil of schizophrenia, with voices sounding from inside and out.
“Rainbow Over 42nd Street” follows, and is a bit too ambient, with its whispered vocals and the constant chug of train over tracks filling the bass end of the mix, but van de Graaf’s solo, when it finally enters the fray, is lively and inspired.
And from the out-of-nowhere league comes a guest appearance of sorts from tenor titan Sonny Rollins on the appropriately titled “Mr. Rollins, could I get your autograph.” Van de Graaf does his best to sound like Sonny while we listen to adoring fans asks the appreciative saxophone colossus for his John Hancock. Other credits acknowledge “various subway musicians” and a Japanese Chamber Orchestra (which presumably appears on the string-heavy title track).
The only knock on Ticket is its brevity. 25 minutes just doesn’t seem like much of an impression—a glimpse, yes, but hardly the depth of storytelling present on the previously mentioned El-P record. But maybe that was part of van de Graaf’s idea—like a short ride on a fast train, Ticket is a blur, a sensual overload leaving you in dizzying wonder.
Since the earliest part of the 20th century, more than at any other time, divisions have existed between musicians who take their inspiration from nature and those who ally themselves with urbanism.
Obviously many players and composers fall between the two camps, but the nature camp includes at very least New Age composers and most folk singers. Industrial rock and musical futurism take the other tack. Sometimes this divide extends to improvised music as well. But that genre's triumph is that a mixture of these elements with the input of an inventive improviser produces unexpected results.
Ticket and With Birds are particularly remarkable because each features a solo saxophonist interacting with a soundscape that reflect either an urban or a natural setting. British saxophonist Evan Parker, whose technique has rated more aviary comparisons than any reed man since Eric Dolphy, is in good company on the later. With Birds is a CD featuring Parker literally improvising along with field recordings of winged creatures and other soundscapes from Liskeard, Cornwall and St Marys, Isle of Scilly. Tenor saxophonist Bo van de Graaf of the Netherlands, on the other hand, finds his Ticket by recording inside the New York subway system, matching his sax timbres to the unembellished sounds of intercom announcements, crowd noises, platform conversation and the odd local tunnel musicians. Barely 25 minutes long, at points the concept is more intriguing than its execution.
Commencing as if he was playing on the soundtrack to a film noir from the 1940s, van de Graaf's breathy cadences make you conscious of the found poetry implicit in vocalized directions to Brighton Beach, Sixth Avenue and Brooklyn, and the sometimes irritating voices of New Yorkers. By the time the shifting rhythmic movement of the trains and what seems to be to be sequenced, electronic loops and synthesized, organ-like runs are audible, his tone has coarsened. Among the additional tones produced by Tessa Zoutentendijk's violin and a captured loop of a female voice explaining the advantage of a Metro Card, the saxman goes into full Gato Barbieri mode, blurting reed emotionalism on top of the sounds of mass transit.
Ticket gets its shape when "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is heard played instrumentally by a subway platform band, with its lyrics subsequently sung-whispered in a tone bordering on melodrama by Simin Tander. These renditions are then commented on and animated by van de Graaf's over-the-top response.Adapting a montuno beat and with his reed squeaks and honks resembling Barbieri's output of the 1960s, his saxophone expression perfectly matches the churning transportation rhythms.
Although it gives van de Graaf a chance to replicate Sonny Rollins' influential style of the early1960s, a chance encounter caught by the Dutch saxophonist's recording equipment between that famous American saxophonist and some autograph-seeking fans dissipates
the mood on the final track. With much of the interaction swallowed by train noises, you can hypothesize that the Dutch reedist's sax line is a homage to the older saxophonist, parallel but not as intrusive as a fan encounter. We do get to hear Rollins' female friend remind the besotted fan boys that Rollins is tired. They exit and the piece's - and the CD's - coda is the whoosh of the train exiting the station.
June 27, 2005