Talking Pictures is the premier small ensemble of the vibrant Vancouver creative music scene. As documented on two strong albums on the much missed Red Toucan label, this co-op quartet is equally cogent mewling with bucolic lyricism or spitting noise in electro-acoustic improvisations.
Comprised of trumpeter Bill Clark, cellist Peggy Lee, guitarist Ron Samworth and drummer Dylan van der Schyff, Talking Pictures has such a well-balanced ensemble sound that, at first, the idea of adding a guest composer/improviser seems dubious. Luckily, in writing the program for Humming, Dutch alto saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra did not simply write to the musicians' strengths; his compositions amplified them. As a result, Humming has good, old-fashioned synergy.
Dijkstra (who spelled his name Dykstra for his solid '97 BVHaast album, European Echoes) is something of a younger, homegrown Michael Moore, an altoist who can easily shift from Konitzian conversational tones to Ornetteish hollers. His compositional materials swerve from the wry lullaby of the title piece to the treacherous stop-go phrasing of "Barcode." They accommodate a wide spectrum of improvisational strategies, spanning pungent motivic solos of the Shorter-cum-Douglas "Curve Belt" to the electronics-spiked collage "XJ."
Yet Humming does not have the feel of a mere eclectic program. Chalk it up to the respective ranges of Talking Pictures' members. Clark's bell-like tone, strong sense of development and large inventory of timbral effects will inevitably be compared to Douglas. As revealed on her unaccompanied solo that opens the title tune, Lee can combine extended techniques and a ravishing sense of line to ends that are simultaneously daring and beautiful. Samworth can skronk with the best of them, but he also places a premium of subtlety, both in his more linear solos, and his use of effects in the ensembles. Van der Schyff is one of the very few North Americans who can make the clatter of the Oxley-Lovens wing of European free drumming swing in more conventional settings.
This is not the first project to confirm the compatibility of musicians from the Amsterdam and Vancouver scenes, but because it joins a flexible composer-improviser with an ongoing ensemble, it may have the best prospects for long-term growth.