cd linernotes by Jeff Kaiser

across the sky with John Dikeman (sax), Raoul van der Weide (contrabass) and Klaus Kugel (drum set) connected immediately with me timbrally-the tracks engage with their clarity of purpose in sound from the beginning, avoiding the straightjacket of a prefabricated musical ideology while maintaining a connection to memory, history and time.
“Timbre,” writes philosophy professor Jean-Luc Nancy in Listening, “opens, rather immediately onto the metaphor of other perceptible registers...” Nancy's words resonated while listening to
across the sky as the timbral connection to metaphor ties it to the band's literary reference: the titles of the three tracks are drawn from the opening sentences of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, which begin with a metaphor and a kind of metonymy.
In the opening sentence of Pynchon's text, the missile moving across the sky is understood through metonymy (and personification!) as a screaming. The missile, reduced from its mechanical totality to a single human characteristic (a sound), a characteristic that gives meaning through personification. However, our understanding of the missile moves the other way, from reading the reduced personified representation (screaming) the complex whole becomes known to us through its context and placement in the sky. But why is the missile screaming? Is it in pain? Is it trying to let us know its feelings? Is it even the missile screaming, could it be a siren? Most likely, of course, is that the scream is giving warning of what is to come. Our awareness of the meaning of the warning comes through our past experience and/or knowledge: our history. What is more important to these liner notes is, “what characteristic of a scream makes it recognizable as a scream?” At first thought it might be the loudness, but even listening to a scream at low volumes you know immediately it is a scream. In the same way that listening to a recording of a whisper at loud volumes, you still know it is a whisper.
Timbre is that characteristic of a sound that makes it most readily recognizable as to what it is. It gives the saxophone its saxophone-ness, helps us to recognize a contrabass as a contrabass, a drum set as a drum set and gives a scream its scream-ness. Not reducible and measurable in the same way that pitch and rhythm are, timbre “opens” up not only to metaphoric understanding through conceptual domains such as color, temperature, texture, shapes, smells, tastes: but also readily into ideas of memory, history and time. A player has their “sound,” and that sound is most readily knowable by timbre. It is one of the characteristics that immediately differentiates Miles Davis and Chet Baker, Albert Ayler and John Coltrane and so on. When someone says they can tell a player by a single note, they are usually not talking about pitch and rhythm, but about timbre.
Timbre can also recall time-periods and geographical locations, a New Orleans-based jazz clarinet player in the late 1920s would have a different ideal timbre than would a New York-based symphonic clarinet player under the direction of Arturo Toscanini in the same time period, and those would both would differ from the timbral vocabulary of a contemporary player. The danger here, is that such ideals and well-defined esthetics can become the aforementioned ideological straightjacket, most apparent when players discuss the jazz sound and the classical sound, the sounds to which they believe all should strive to achieve within a consensus created prison of category.
But again, the collective members of
across the sky avoid those ideological pitfalls. Kugel's drumming creates sonic depth-maps sending the music into multidimensional regions, bursts whose components simultaneously reside in the foreground and background and the regions in-between. Dikeman and van der Weide traverse these regions, exploring the far corners...and when we hear Dikeman's saxophone open up, memory is triggered and history of the screaming saxophone is evoked, but there is something timbrally going on that is uniquely Dikeman, something recognizable that states who he is. Van der Weide's bass punctuates time with forward-propulsive arco and pizzicato that flows alternately between sonorous tones and expressive scratching/rumbling/rattling: dynamically pulsing, but not afraid to leave strict time into the multiphonic world of sul ponticello overtones and beyond.
This band, like the best in the tradition, has linked time-past with time-present, invoking both shared musical history and individual agency as a totality (not a spectrum) that is as irreducible as timbre: timbre-upon-timbre combining into a meta-timbre that is evocative of the band itself, individual components giving way to the band as a corporate individual. (A corporation actually deserving of personhood.) The band-as the missile-moves screaming through the space it inhabits while triggering memory, history and time...however-unlike the missile-it does not end in a fiery crash or dull misfire, but continues on.
-Jeff Kaiser, 13 December 2011