|Odd instrumentations are hardly a novel occurrence in freely improvised music. There exists precedence for and venerable imitation of virtually every conceivable combination. But to my knowledge the combined elements that comprise the improvisatory ensemble ISKRA 1903 have to date remained unduplicated. The ensemble's earliest embodiment featured Derek Bailey in place of Wachsmann and was just as fixated on unleashing the unique sonic entities attainable through its own unprecedented instrumentation. Though they only recorded sporadically the original line-up is thankfully well represented on an earlier Emanem release. The Wachsmann edition has a comparable dearth of recorded work, the only other disc to date being of which this recent concert document is a welcome addition.
The sprawling "Frankfurter Memories" is rife with fitful bursts and lurching stops, which cleave the music into manageable parcels while at the same time disrupting an even flow. In between are interludes of relative repose where the three improvisors confer and regroup before the next leap into more rambunctious interplay. Rutherford's brass vacillates from austere legato lines to eructative blats often poking at the same note or phrase to the point of almost obsessive exaggeration. With a similar flair for the flamboyant Guy's fingers and bow scurry and worry across his strings creating spiky harmonic streaks in answer to the trombonist's moist outbursts. Wachsmann's lighter strings are no less trenchant when courted by bow yielding fulminating clouds of arco static. But even with these kinds of baroque displays of collective bravura an undercurrent of moody ill humor remains palpable in the music. Later in the piece the violinist offers up chamber-like strands of melancholy underscored by Guy's seesaw counterpoint. The bassist eventually batters his bow against strings creating a clattering racket of rhythmically spaced hummingbird tones. Rutherford caps the piece off with a lofty final dissertation that dissipates without much resolution.
Consequently "After the Interval" works much like an addendum to its predecessor further exploring the free associative terrain, but this time with Wachsmann accessing his electronics console for part of the piece. His application of looping and what sounds like live sampling effects conjures seismic waves that propagate outward in a manner akin to techniques regularly employed by fellow violinist Paul Giger. Electronics also play a large role in his solo improvisation, the first of three designed to feature each player in isolation. Rutherford uses his time alone to experiment with timbre and volume, trading terse stentorian blasts with elongated guttural growls. Guy is the last to be heard sans partners and he brings up the rear with a solo exposition that is arguably the best of the bunch. Weaving a wiry radiating web of plucked and scraped sounds he makes clever use of volume pedal swells to further expand the resonating properties of his instrument. "To the End of the Tape" is just that, a final improvisation truncated prematurely by the expiration of available magnetic media. Based not only on the quality of this music, but also on the relative poverty of this group's discography this disc is easily recommended to listeners with an appreciation for free improvisation. In a field of music where anomalous aggregations are almost a common currency ISKRA 1903 still harbors a unique voice.