As a bandleader, the wildly inventive soprano and tenor saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock shepherds all-star groups such as Ubatuba, Anti-House, and Serpentines, all category-defying projects with a bent toward unconventional instrumentation and disparate style-shifting. The Germany-born, Brooklyn-based polymath’s collaborative and side work, meanwhile, includes a regular slot in the acclaimed Mary Halvorson Octet, plus stints in Paradoxical Frog and Kris Davis’ Capricorn Climber. Add a pair of new recordings, traversing polar-opposite sound worlds, to her ballooning canon.
Contemporary Chaos Practices is Laubrock’s fifth album in six years for the Zurich-based Intakt imprint. It’s also her first foray into truly large-scale composition—the sprawling program features Laubrock, guitarist Halvorson, pianist Davis, and trumpeter Nate Wooley alongside a 35-piece orchestra plus eight vocalists—and she proves a natural virtuoso in both writing for and playing in the classical-contemporary framework. This is music of majestic breadth, swirling intricacy, and rich detail. With Eric Wubbels and Taylor Ho Bynum at the helm as conductors, thrilling phrases give way to serpentine patterns and bold abstractions running the loud/quiet gamut. Halvorson’s warped twang is Instantly recognizable on the 16-minute “Contemporary Chaos Practices Part 1 & Part 2,” while the 18-minute “Vogelfrei,” featuring Josh Sinton on amplified contrabass clarinet, keeps listeners on the edge of their seats through a sometimes hypnotic, sometimes explosive forward-motion journey heavy on transcendent dronescapes and angelic voices.
Utter offers the antithesis of Contemporary Chaos Practices’ grandeur, featuring only two players, Laubrock and her creative and life partner, drummer Tom Rainey. It’s the duo’s third record for the Relative Pitch label; the first two, Any Other Desert Towns (2014) and Buoyancy (2016), were completely improvised. This time around, Laubrock and Rainey throw three composed pieces into the fire along with four off-the-cuff ones, but as on their prior efforts, the mood remains loose, ranging from patience to sheer mayhem. At times, Utter reaches a Coltrane/Ali-esque level of cosmic interplay. Seven-minute leadoff track “Flutter” begins on a sparse note before picking up steam, as Rainey sets a manic, angular tempo and Laubrock joins in with blissed-out melodicism, followed by a flurry of earsplitting squeals. At two minutes and change, “Clickety-Smash-Boom” is just as the title suggests: a neck-snapping, spastic blitz of Laubrock’s fierce soprano and tenor sax wailing and Rainey’s stop-at-nothing rustle and thwack. The equally intense “Shutter” closes the set on a bonkers note.
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