The external details of the three sessions that produced Plumb, the first CD of duet and solo pieces from the Montreal clarinetist Lori Freedman and Toronto trombonist Scott Thomson, are unremarkable enough, if perhaps quaintly so. Freedman and Thomson stood facing each other across a low baffle and over a pair of microphones at The Farm, Jean Martin’s west-end Toronto loft/studio, a living space defined for recording purposes by a work table laden with Martin’s computers on one side and by comfortable couches on two others, with a gallery of marionettes and plush monkeys looking on quizzically from shelves against the surrounding walls.
Freedman and Thomson said almost nothing before each of their improvisations and very little after. No “How about...” or “Let’s try...” The marionettes and monkeys kept their thoughts to themselves, as did, generally speaking, the friends that the two musicians invited to listen in on the last of the three afternoons.
The proof of the music, they all seemed to realize, would be in the playback. That’s where the internal details are; that’s where things get really interesting, where – as Cecil Taylor has been known to say – the stuff is.
Freedman and Thomson are no strangers to the one-to-one of the improvised duet. Freedman has been half of Queen Mab with pianist Marilyn Lerner since 1992, and Thomson an equal partner in JOUST with alto saxophonist John Oswald more recently. Their paths in free improvisation – Freedman’s from New Music and Thomson’s more tangentially from jazz – first crossed in Toronto in 2006.
They share a love of those internal details, of the many sounds that are inside one sound – the timbres, textures and overtones that can be drawn out on their own through the liberal application of mutes, multiphonics and, most of all, imagination. Only once on Plumb, in the first of the Two Plums, do the two musicians use their instruments in a relatively conventional manner, otherwise preferring to explore all of the usual “extended” techniques, plus a few more of their own devising, and to do so with a folksy sort of virtuosity – amiable, agreeably unpretentious and without the patented sheen of the conservatory.
Initially, theirs may seem like a small, narrow world of sound, one further compressed by the dry, unadorned space that Jean Martin, as recording engineer, has left around it. But this is a world that quickly develops its own adjusted scale of small and large, soft and loud – a new dynamic, unique to Freedman and Thomson, that accommodates the dramatic and strident as readily as it does the humourous and the lyrical. (In the matter of humour, note also the interrelated word play in the titles of the CD and its nine tracks. Consult your favourite dictionary as required.) Sometimes the two musicians play together in opposition, sometimes in empathy, sometimes in self-absorption, always in the spirit of discovery and revelation.
Plumb is an honest, no-frills document of two of the busiest musicians in Canadian improvised music joining forces for a good-humoured recording session. From a personality perspective, Toronto, ON trombonist Scott Thomson often plays the rascally rogue, while Montreal clarinettist Lori Freedman is more earnest and soulful in her musical explorations. In these solo and duet pieces, each player shifts their roles accordingly, calling and responding to nuanced appeals for new sounds from their respective instruments. Freedman generates squawks and squalls on “Aplomb” that are rhythmic and damn near poetic. “Two Depths” is moodier, beginning with the Theremin-like bubbling of Thomson’s gurgling trombone, which suspends Freedman’s subtle accompaniment in the air before both instrumentalists begin bristling at one another in concert. Such physiological experiments, where the trombone, clarinet and bass clarinet each are ascribed with communicative traits usually reserved for braying organisms, continue on the stirring “To Horn” and the subdued big-band musings of “Two Plums.”
Those with some knowledge of Freedman and Thomson’s work as individuals will likely appreciate Plumb the most but there’s certainly something vivacious about their interplay. (Barnyard)
Sur Plumb : le dialogue récemment improvisé par la clarinettiste Lori Freedman et le tromboniste Scott Thomson.
Instables, les deux intervenants s'imposent des instincts de jeu différents : discours haché ou notes longues gagnées par l'angoisse ou l'ironie, méthode éprouvée mais appliquée encore de l'écoute attentive ou interventions individuelles annulant tout fantasme d'effort commun, pratiques le plus souvent expérimentales. Régulièrement investi, plus rarement convaincant, l'exercice du duo improvisé est ici porté haut par une paire alerte : Lori Freedman et Scott Thomson, Canadiens doués et d'aplomb.
Signal to Noise
Michael Chamberlain, Summer 08
Plumb presents nine solo and duo pieces by Montreal clarinetist Lori Freedman and Toronto trombonist Scott Thomson. Freedman is perhaps best known for her work in Queen Mab, a duo with pianist Marilyn Lerner that has been in existence since 1992, while Thomson, who also plays in JOUST with alto saxophonist John Oswald, has a shorter track record but has become an energetic force on the Toronto improvised music scene. Each piece is totally improvised, with Freedman and Thomson using a full range of extended techniques to explore texture and timbre. There are soft burblings and throaty growls, moments of extreme delicacy, and instances when one musician intrudes somewhat rudely, but appropriately, on what the other is playing. A friend who is new to improvised music recently asked how you could tell if an improvisation had worked. The best I could do was to fall back on the time-worn trope of improvisation as conversation. A good conversation is based on mutual respect and contains humor, surprise, and (if one is lucky) discovery, and it is in that manner that this particular musical conversation proceeds.
Philip Clark, July 08
If this combination of clarinet and trombone echoes a classic jazz frontline from the era of King Oliver or Jelly Roll Morton, it's not a heritage that Toronto based Lori Freedman and Scott Thomson deny. Indeed one track from this superb duo record, "Two Plums", eagerly embraces that lineage, as Freedman's chattery clarinet lines interweave against the contours of Thomson's abstracted tailgating trombone. But there are other concerns too: Freedman bounces off fruity fundamentals as she explores the outer reaches of her instrument's overtones, while elsewhere deadpan post-dada humour belly-laughs its way to the front. Remarkably serious entertainment.