Music Reviews from the Staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House


May 17, 2024
Monophonic - Maria Bertel
Label: Relative Pitch Records
Catalog #: RPRSS030
Location: United States
Release Date: May 24, 2024
Media: compact disc or digital download entry entry



Every jazz listener has their own heroes of the trombone. Two of our all-time favorites are Paul Rutherford (February 29, 1940 - August 5, 2007) and George Lewis (b. July 14, 1952). Each had a definitive solo album. For Rutherford, it was The Gentle Harm Of The Bourgeoisie (Emanem, 1975). For Lewis, it was The George Lewis Solo Trombone Record (Sackville, 1977). We begin with these two notes as an oblique point of reference, nothing more.

If we fast forward nearly half a century to the present day, we find the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House introduced to the music of Maria Bertel on an album released in the latest wave of the Relative Pitch Records Solo Series. As is the usual appeal for releases in this series, we were not familiar with either the name or the music of Maria Bertel. It turns out that the trombone playing is utterly unlike that on The Gentle Harm Of The Bourgeoisie or The George Lewis Solo Trombone Record and yet it is born of the same tradition of non-idiomatic improvisation. Where Rutherford is tentative and sporadic and where Lewis distends his cover of Lush Life into something barely related to the original, Bertel's playing expresses unambiguous power and authority. She knows what message she wants to communicate with the trombone and those unprepared for the sonic manifesto had better grab hold of an anchor.

We don't know how many trombonists employ circular breathing, but we guess it's a small minority of their number. When we think of circular breathing, it's usually on smaller saxophones, in the style of Evan Parker or Roscoe Mitchell. At the 2014 Big Ears festival, we witnessed Colin Stetson circular breathing on a baritone saxophone, which struck us as much as an athletic feat as it did a musical performance. We suppose that circular breathing on the trombone requires similar stamina. When we heard the trombone drones on Monophonic, we wondered what various techniques were employed. We hunted down this video to see the feat in action and our suspicions were confirmed. Maria Bertel has elevated the trombone to the status of shotput, javelin and other tools of the track and field athlete. It reminds us of an idea expressed by Evan Parker in the liner notes to the 1999 reissue of Monoceros on Chronoscope. Indeed, Bertel employs the trombone as "a rather specialized bio-feedback instrument for studying and expanding control over hearing and the motor mechanics of parts of the skeletomuscular system." The envelope for non-idiomatic improvised music ever expands!

In these reviews we occasionally indulge in extended conceits. For listeners of a certain vintage, often the unconventional use of the trombone recalls the teacher, Miss Othmar, in the animated Peanuts shows, whose voice was rendered as unintelligible muted trombone sounds. (See for example, this video.) If the trombone of Maria Bertel were introduced into a Peanuts cartoon, it might be Peppermint Patty tear-assing around on a Harley Davidson or maybe even the voice of Godzilla razing the local elementary school to rubble. Other listeners can surely imagine their own scenes set to this music. In any case, we found much to enjoy and enlighten us on Monophonic. From this solo introduction, we look forward to hearing the trombone of Maria Bertel in other ensembles.



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