Nobu Stowe: Confusion Bleue

Spontaneous improvisation clearly reflects how musical minds can work and how a variety of musical tools can be used. Confusion Bleue was recorded in 2007 by pianist Nobu Stowe and his group, including sound man Lee Pembleton, guitarist and sax player Ross Bonadonna, bassist Tyler Goodwin and drummer Ray Sage. Perfectly placed sound creation carries this collective improvisation into multiple directions that are unforeseen and unusually challenging to the ear. Utilizing instruments, from acoustic and electronic to the exotic, the musicians produce sounds that bump into, overlap, collide with, synchronize with, separate from and overtake each other.

The players’ tendency toward hyper-kineticism allows one sound to morph transparently into another. The music seems to lack a compass but, surprisingly, the constant change in tempo, phrasing, and timbre ground it. Paradoxically, the tracks are titled in leaden classical terms.

Every instrument takes its turn to identify itself, somewhere in the textural mixture. Stowe does everything from hammering the piano, Glock or Wurlitzer in ardent arpeggiated abstractions to molding elegantly the melody of the Davis/Evans’ ballad “Blue In Green.” The drums noticeably play no small part in corralling the improvisational spiral; Sage’s cymbal technique holds the atmosphere in check from the very beginning. The bass’s low bowed tones and pizzicatos break up the sound density as well as lead the instruments into it; the guitar injects a lighter string value to the overall coloration. The alto sneaks in, a character unto itself.

But the ex-situ sounds of crickets chirping, water burbling, squeegees squeegee-ing, bleeps bleeping or hinges creaking insert valuable breathing room into this instrumental mêlée. Confusion Bleue closes in a heavy rhythmic tête-à-tête between the alto sax and the piano. The sound of water going down a drain in an imagined swirl caps this sparkling album.