“Seems like yesterday” is a commonplace phrase, yet it fits perfectly with the memory of my initial encounter with Phillip Greenlief, whose duo CD with Joëlle Léandre That Overt Desire Of Object (first release ever by Relative Pitch) was reviewed right here about nine years ago. Greenlief’s research has gone forward throughout a decade, and the collaborations have consequently intensified. As evidence, this record sees him at work — on tenor sax and Bb clarinet — with a poker of instrumental trios, involving respectively John Bischoff and Tim Perkis (electronics), Kyle Bruckmann and Jane Rigler (winds), Mark Clifford and Tim Decillis (vibraphones), Evelyn Davis (prepared piano) and Gabby Fluke Mogul (violin). Each quartet is featured in two tracks, for a total of eight. All group variants follow a graphic score named “Barbedwire”, which gifts the instrumentalists with extreme freedom of interpretation and, in turn, countless improvisational possibilities within a predefined time frame. The cover shows one of 37 scores, divided into three volumes, created by Greenlief. The resulting music is unassumingly inventive, totally unadulterated and clever sounding.
It goes without saying that all quartets disclose a unique personality. The sonic outcome is influenced by a series of variables concerning timbral juxtaposition and typology of phrasing. Greenlief’s propensity to adapt is such as to draw a compelling reciprocation in any context. As a result, a general discipline is silently threatened by repeated hints to a somewhat repressed anarchy. In the mix with the uncontrollable electronics of Bischoff and Perkis — this writer’s favorite combination — tones blend and bend peculiarly to become a biotic/analog hybrid. In the company of Bruckmann and Rigler, Greenlief probably feels more at home; the winds get engaged in a contrapuntal experimentation that, while unusual, remains entirely penetrable. The meeting with Clifford and Decillis is perhaps the one that sounds less organic given the different breed of sources, however the dynamics at play are still alluring enough to sustain the listener’s curiosity. Together with Davis and Mogul we witness the spontaneous spreading of a weird kind of abstraction connected with small oddities, rhythmic implosions, and attempts to discover what’s concealed inside the darker resonances.