Marilyn Lerner-piano
Lori Freedman-bass clarinet, clarinet
Ig Henneman-viola

The idea that improvising musicians are having a musical "conversation" is a useful one. But with the exception of one track (the last) the controlling concept on this disc feels much less like a conversation than the action plan one puts into play after a very fruitful discussion. This wonderful trio performs not so much as three separate voices calling and responding, proposing and modifying, agreeing and/or disagreeing, but as three simpatico vines growing around the same young sapling. The result is quite beautiful, indeed.
The outcome is even more fascinating when you consider that only two of these musicians normally play together. Though the eight-year-old Canadian duo Queen Mab - Marilyn Lerner, piano; Lori Freedman, clarinets - has collaborated with other musicians before - notably on its second CD Close - this is the first time the group has released a whole disc featuring a third, equal partner - Dutch composer and violist Ig Henneman. It's a natural enough move. Dutch improvisers have found an ample and eager audience in Canada over the years - and vice versa - and Freedman herself has spent a lot of time in Amsterdam. During one of those sojourns, Freedman played with Henneman's tentet.
After the violist heard Close, she suggested a trio collaboration. See Saw is excerpted from the result - a 2002 tour across Canada, from Victoria to Halifax.
Though Queen Mab stands alone quite nicely, Henneman enlivens and enriches the duo a great deal. With a composer's instinct for structure, she pushes musical segments to coherent definitions, yet never lingers in one place long. Interestingly, though she's a player with mostly modern classical associations, she also offers two strategies linked to jazz - aggressive pulses for others to improvise over, and a sense of playfulness.
The result is an inviting, graceful chamber set that is both muscular and seductive, ranging in mood from martial and industrial to pastoral and elegiac. The three players squeeze a remarkable variety of blends from their instruments. At times, viola and Bb clarinet sound strident as a trumpet; at others, the mellow lows of the bass clarinet coo and hoot with the sister sounds of the low viola strings. At still other moments, the strings of the piano find sympathy with those of the viola.
Those with an eye for detail will note immediately that six of the nine performances have been drawn from the Halifax gig, a date that prompted both sadness and intense concentration, because it was the last of the tour.
See Saw arose during that November 16 encounter. I love how the solemnity and sobriety of the opening theme - with beautiful sonorities between bass clarinet and viola - belies the playfulness of the improv, and how the trio caps the piece with a swift exclamation point.
"Shift" begins inside the box - the piano box, that is - with the library-quiet ceremony and silences of Gagaku music - plinks, sproings and pings included. The title refers to shifting roles in the score - composed of words only, no notes - but the real "shift" is from the veiled, shadow world inside the piano to the arena of concrete forms outside it.
The "stubborn, passionate" music of St. Petersburg-based composer Galina Ustvolskaya, "without any ornamentation," says Henneman, is among her contemporary favorites, hence the aggressive trumpeting and factory-like dissonance of "Galina U"'s opening. Lerner makes a wonderful rumble here and Freedman counters with some Dolphy-esque warbling. After the piano suddenly goes tender, the scariness returns.
Flow and blend are nice, but sometimes contrast is even more fun. As Henneman's viola approaches violence on "June 2th," Lerner and Freedman meditate in a quiet room of their own, then all join for an animated close.
The open voicing of "Chorale" lives up to its title, viola and Bb clarinet blending for a fluty sound, and Lerner making the only obvious references to her jazz roots - peaceful pools of piano that recall Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. Lovely.
Freedman's virtuosity on the big horn takes flight with a fluttering trill on her namesake tune, "Lori F," as Henneman offers an aggressively-patterned carpet for her to ride, then delivers a dancing solo herself.
"Three Strikes," the longest piece on the program, begins tentatively, with dampened piano notes and abstract chirps and groans, then showcases the solo virtuosity of each player. The bass clarinet kicks into a high gear as Freedman "answers" herself with a low melody figure, then Henneman digs in below with a vigorous double-stop vamp that eventually becomes a sort of drone, like Thai bamboo harmonica. Henneman and Lerner follow with animated, virtuosic outings.
The crepuscular night march of "Marilyn L" features piano again, but also a lovely, skipping interlude in which each player staggers her attack on the same figure, just off the beat. This piece also features an orchestral dimension one wouldn't have thought possible from these three instruments.
On the aptly-titled "Exchange," a wild clarinet solo with subtle klezmer references is answered by viola and piano, who seem to say, in a soothing refrain, "everything will be okay."
As mentioned above, the conversational interplay of "Exchange" - as well as the virtuoso showcasing of "Three Strikes" - are the exception rather than the rule on this disc. Group cooperation and ensemble focus take center stage instead. Without wishing to beat a dead horse, it's worth pointing out the feminist subtext here - hey, the group is named after Queen Mab, who ain't just a fairy queen in a Shakespeare play, she's an ancient Celtic power goddess. Most free improv is dominated by men, and the bane of the scene, unfortunately, is the macho display of idiosyncratic technique and competitive exchange. What's lovely about this cooperative, ensemble-focused disc is that while it doesn't indulge in all that, it still has many of the positive qualities stereotypically associated with men: aggression, structural rigor, and a strenuous lack of sentimentality.
That makes for a very beautiful and intelligent album, indeed.

- Paul de Barros

Lori Freedman
Toronto, Canada 1958
Received classical training in Toronto after which she lived in Chicago, Amsterdam, Vancouver and Winnipeg playing classical and contemporary music in ensembles and solo settings from concerti with orchestra, within the clarinet sections, chamber music, live electronics and experimental projects crossing disciplines with dance, theatre and visual artists. Although frequently on tour as an international ambassador for Canadian contemporary and improvised music Freedman currently lives in Montreal where she is a prominent performer in the musique actuelle community. Adding to that creative side she frequently receives commissions to write original music and she has commissioned/premiered more than 100 compositions. Her playing appears on 31 compact discs. Highlight collaborations: Kaffe Matthews, Toru Takemitsu, George Lewis, Iva Bittova, Marilyn Lerner, Maurizio Kagel, Steve Lacy, Ig Henneman, Joe McPhee, Jean Derome and Bernard Falaise. In 2002 she completed her second solo project: A un moment donné, Ambiances Magnétiques 103.
www.lorifreedman.com www.actuellecd.com

Ig Henneman
Haarlem, the Netherlands 1945
Started as a violist in symphony orchestras then co-founded the rock band FCGerania, for which she also began composing. Nowadays she is one of the New Dutch Swing improvisers of the Amsterdam scene (see Kevin Whitehead's book New Dutch Swing) and a prolific and sought after composer. She plays venues and festivals in Europe and North America. Her music is informed by the major trends in the 20th century notated music as well as by diverse genres like pop, jazz, improvised, and classical music. Henneman has worked with such musicians as Wilbert de Joode, Ab Baars, Wolter Wierbos, Katrien Ex, Lori Freedman, François Houle, Michael Moore, Peggy Lee, Theo Jörgensmann, Steve Arguëlles, Marilyn Lerner, Ernst Reijseger, Misha Mengelberg, Tristan Honsinger, Roswell Rudd, Han Buhrs, Martin van Duynhoven and Mark Helias. She wrote compositions for Ensemble Amadé, the Metropole Orchestra, Orchestra de Volharding, for the Nieuw Ensemble, the Residentie Orchestra and male chorus, and for harpplayer Godelieve Schrama. Her work is released on the label Wig.

Marilyn Lerner
Montreal, Canada 1957
Trained classically at Vincent D'Indy in Montreal and then studied jazz and improvisation intensively at York University, Marilyn's work is informed by many influences that are distilled into her unique and compelling approach to music and art. Explorative. Collaborative and fearless, she has recorded jazz, Latin, Jewish music and improvised music, each with her own distinctmark of originality. She performs with Sonny Greenwich, Jane Bunnett, Peggy Lee, Dave Wall, the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, New York based the Yiddish powerhouse singer Adrienne Cooper, klezmer violin virtuoso Alicia Svigals, Lori Freedman, Ig Henneman, poet Patrick Friesen and audio artist Ken Gregory, and as a soloist. She also makes audio art using computertechnology, created collages of found sound and her own playing. She performs extensively across Canada, in the U.S. and in both Western and Eastern Europe. In 2003 she completed a new solo project while in residence at Avatar in Quebec City: Luminance on Ambience Magnetique.
www.marilynlerner.com www.actuellecd.com

1 See Saw * M.Lerner SOCAN 4:56
2 Shift ° L.Freedman SOCAN 5:35
3 Galina U * I.Henneman BUMA STEMRA 8:40
4 June 2th ^ L.Freedman SOCAN 4:57
5 Chorale * M.Lerner SOCAN 4:52
6 Lori F * I.Henneman BUMA STEMRA 4:14
7 Three Strikes # M.Lerner SOCAN 9:09
8 Marilyn L * I.Henneman BUMA STEMRA 4:41
9 Exchange * L.Freedman / I.Henneman / M.Lerner 4:19


total time 51:25

live recording Canada tour 2002

# Toronto Music Gallery November 2
° Victoria Open Space November 8 [mono recording]
^ Banff The Banff Centre November 13
* Halifax Music Room November 16

live recording Canada tour 2002

editing and mastering: Guido Tichelman & Ig Henneman, February 2005
liner notes Paul de Barros
design Francesca Patella
cover photo Joost Buis [Edam Mahogany Hall 19.2.2004]
other photo Francesca Patella [Amsterdam Bimhuis 20.2.2004]
produced by Ig Henneman

thanks to Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst, Stichting Gaudeamus, Canada Council for the Arts and Dutch Embassy in Ottawa