A brief note accompanying the latest record from Montreal free-jazz purveyor Small Scale Music highlights things before players: The titular “instruments,” we read, represent “a collection of resonant objects and systems played by an ever-evolving group of musicians.” The objects in question are ceramics made by the Vancouver musician and sound artist Roxanne Nesbitt, who is heard on Play Symbiotic Instruments on double bass in trio with Vancouver’s Ben Brown (drums) and Amsterdam’s Marielle Groven (piano). Nesbitt’s ceramics are more than mere instruments on this recording; in the hands of Brown and Groven, ceramic becomes a kind of interlocutor, and its affordances and constraints shape the music that emerges through and around it.
Four of the pieces were composed by Brown, whose approach feels percussive and atmospheric: On “Chauffeur,” Groven’s patient, recursive touch on the piano and Brown’s exploratory playing on a prepared kit are punctuated by the exclamation of a ceramic shot. Nesbitt composed the other three pieces, including the featherweight groover “Blue Seas” and “Wild Bells No. 3,” the most prominent feature for the ceramics as a source of melody. Taken together, the record achieves a sense of joyful exploration; by its end, the varied tonal colours of the ceramics feel at home among the warmth of the piano and double bass.
Symbiotic Instruments has a lightness of touch that rewards careful listening to its textures and contours. After all, hitting too hard risks shattering the material.