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Thomas Lehn/Gerry Hemingway: Tom and Gerry

Percussionist Gerry Hemingway should be familiar to most readers from both his long-term membership in the Anthony Braxton Quartet and his leadership of a superb quintet, but Germany’s Thomas Lehn remains an unknown quantity to most folks in North America. This powerful double CD of analog synthesizer-percussion duets marks Lehn’s first domestic release, and it’s a doozy of an introduction: a rigorous and challenging series of free improvisations that celebrate sound in its most tactile, unwieldy and cathartic forms. Lehn, who’s also a fine pianist, frequently collaborates with European improvisers like John Butcher, Axel Dorner, Phil Durrant, Mats Gustafsson, and Paul Lovens, and that musical aesthetic is made clear through the bracing mix of cerebralism and physicality on Tom & Gerry.

With an old analog synth, a jumble of patch chords, knobs and keys, Lehn crafts fleet sonic abstractions like a mad scientist. In fact, his vast arsenal of sounds occasionally makes it difficult to make out who’s doing what here. On a piece like “D5.4,” Hemingway’s extended technique makes his snare drum scrapes sound as if he’s sawing through plastic, and Lehn’s sibilant squiggles mirror the activity with perfection. A similar confusion arises on “D7.1,” where an almost horrific collection of grunts, yelps and mute utterances completely dissolve any obvious source; it could be voice, synthesizer, or drums, but you just can’t tell. It’s not all so abstract, though. On “W3,” Hemingway lays down a relatively stable rhythm for Lehn’s wiggy improvisation, and the 24-minute “B2” is a free jazz blowout that just happens to replace the sax with a synth. Although Lehn’s sonic palette here is a bit monochromatic compared to on some of his other recordings, the record remains a daunting achievement.

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