1. Deterritorialization I (30:18)
2. Deterritorialization II (30:27)
· Anastasios Savvopoulos: guitar
· Brad Henkel: trumpet
· Philipp Gropper: tenor saxophone
· Felix Henkelhausen: double bass
· Dré A. Hočevar: drums
All music by Anastasios Savvopoulos, Brad Henkel, Philipp Gropper, Felix Henkelhausen & Dré A. Hočevar
Recorded live at Klub Gromka, Ljubljana on 19 September 2018
Engineered and recorded by Iztok Zupan
Mixed and mastered by Dave Darlington at Bass Hit Recording, New York
Cover art by Anastasios Savvopoulos
Photos by Iztok Zupan
Graphic design by László Szakács
Produced by Anastasios Savvopoulos
Executive producer: Nataša Serec
Associate producer: László Juhász
As Derek Bailey puts in his seminal 1992 book on the nature and practice of improvised music, freely improvised music, variously called ‘total improvisation’, ‘open improvisation’, ‘free music’, or maybe most often commonly, ‘improvised music’ suffers from – and also certainly enjoys – the confused identity which its resistance labelling indicates. The lack of definiteness over its naming is, if anything, increased when we come to the thing itself. Diversity is its most consistent characteristic. It has no stylistic or idiomatic commitment, it has no prescribed idiomatic sound, the characteristics of freely improvised music are established only by the sonic and musical identity of the individuals playing it.
Free improvisation assumes a new experience, an unfamiliarity with what is to come, what is to happen, a total disruption of expectations. How much more intense and disorienting the experience becomes in the music of Anastasios Savvopoulos’ OUXPO (Ouvroir d’X Potentielle). Each member of this Berlin-based, but remarkably international quintet – namely American trumpet player Brad Henkel, German tenor saxophonist Philipp Gropper, Greek guitarist and band-leader Anastasios Savvopoulos, German double bassist Felix Henkelhausen and Slovenian drummer Dré A. Hočevar – has an imposing resume of various musical adventures, but as a group, their music expresses particular qualities and raises challenging questions. OUXPO offers no customary constructions, no persistent prototypes. The improvising unit’s two lengthy instant compositions here could be read as two vast chapters in a continuing story, following an abstract narrative of details.
The pool of five offers a seemingly usual, but here thoroughly matching instrumentation. The alchemy between the players undoubtedly works – what is more, it works blazingly. The sonic and musical personalities of the individuals – that Bailey talks about – define eventually this freely improvised session, and place it of the highest order. However, this document preserves the very first meeting of the players as a performing group, it clearly demands continuation. The music that you will hear on Deterritorialization is the quintet’s complete Ljubljana performance, held at KUD Mreža’s concert series FriForma at Klub Gromka on 19 September 2018 – without editing, literally as it happened.
“OUXPO is guitarist Anastasios Savvopoulos’s freely improvising quintet, consisting of members from all around Europe and America: trumpeter Brad Henkel, saxophonist Philipp Gropper, bassist Felix Henkelhausen, and drummer Dré Hočevar. Deterritorialization, in two parts, has been recorded live in Ljubljana and put on record unedited. The hour-long performance is a true journey: diversified, exploratory, restless, and always surprising. Really, this is a grotesque album, all the more reason to enjoy it thoroughly.” / Dæv Tremblay, Can This Even Be Called Music?, 11 September 2019
“OUXPO fait sans doute référence à « Ouvroir de littérature potentielle » de l’écrivain Georges Pérec et rassemble cinq improvisateurs, Brad Henkel (trompette USA), Philipp Gropper (sax ténor DE), Felix Henkelhausen (contrebasse DE) and Dré Hocevar (drums SI) sous la houlette du guitariste grec Anastasios Savvopoulos. Basé à Berlin et enregistré ici au Club Gromka à Ljubljana par Iztok Zupan, le quintet OUXPO navigue avec une réelle classe entre improvisation radicale raffinée (et rare) et une manière de jazz libre en forme de dérive. Ils dérivent en fait en dehors des territoires reconnus par cette pratique issue du jazz contemporain tout en assumant l’architecture instrumentale du quintet de jazz : trompette, sax ténor, guitare, contrebasse et batterie. Deux très précises demi-heures à 18 ou 27 secondes près, nombre de secondes multiples du carré du nombre de dizaines de minutes à la seconde près. Un lointain parfum jazz dans le phrasé éclaté de la guitare électrique, une trompette qui évoque sincèrement Bill Dixon, entre autres références. Non seulement, ils louvoient avec talent entre des territoires pas toujours reconnaissables en improvisant leur musique du début à la fin, mais ils ont un son distinctif de groupe qui préserve les intentions intimes de chaque individualité. Leur musique éminemment collective fait sincèrement plaisir à écouter, à en repasser le fil pour découvrir d’autres angles de vue, les moments forts de son cheminement et en déceler le sens profond et toutes les implications qui surgissent dans notre conscience. Cet album est un excellent témoignage du grand bénéfice qu’on peut tirer du travail collectif et de la combinaison de talents et de sensibilités, d’une véritable écoute qualitative, qualité qui sublime les initiatives individuelles d’artistes quasi inconnus du circuit. Un parcours truffé de belles surprises.” / Jean-Michel Van Schouwburg, Orynx-improv’andsounds, 17 December 2019
“OUXPO is a Berlin-based quintet with an international line up: the leader is Greek guitarist Anastasios Savvopoulos and his companions are American trumpeter Brad Henkel, Philipp Gropper (tenor saxophone) and Felix Henkelhausen (double bass) both from Germany, plus Slovenian drummer Dré A. Hočevar. Savvopoulos workes from Berlin already for several years. Earlier Savvopulos had a trio here of drummer Dimitris Christides and saxophonist Peter Ehrwald. It started in 2012 and released two albums. OUXPO is a very new combination that made its first live appearance at Klub Gromka in Ljubljana on 19 September 2018. It is this concert that we hear on this release, presented without any editing. We enjoy one long extended improvisation divided into two parts of about 30 minutes each. Free-floating group improvisation with a sense for melody that has all five players taking equally part in their interactions. During this hour moments pass by where everything interlocks and the music lifts you, in contrast with parts where the improvisation meanders a bit unnoticed forward. But that is not a problem and all in the game when musicians decide to play the game of free improvisation without making any decisions in advance. So we witness an adventurous journey into the unknown.” / Dolf Mulder, Vital Weekly, 31 December 2019
“This 2018 live set from Slovenian capital Ljubljana’s Klub Gromka brings together Greek guitarist Anastasios Savvopoulos, American trumpeter Brad Henkel and Slovenian drummer Dré Hočevar, alongside Germans Philipp Gropper on tenor sax and Felix Henkelhausen on double bass. Each musician has a distinctive sound. Henkel is a dominant voice in the first half, his low end rasps complemented by Henkelhausen’s grinding arco bass. As the group reach their clattering peak, Henkel cuts through with silvery runs. Gropper’s vocabulary of muffled trills and rippling tones is refreshingly non macho. It’s only towards the end that he reaches for a throatier sound, contrasting with Henkel’s mimesis of wheezing eight-bit synths. As the leader, Savvopoulos sets the tone with glimmering sonics and crabby abstraction, remaining open to the collective voice.” / Steward Smith, The Wire – Issue 432 (February 2020)
“Improvisation, by its very nature, defies expectations and allows no preconceived ideas. At least it should be like that. Unfortunately, mannerism is not something new. The reviewer finds himself or she in the awkward position – same for all improvisational recordings – to, sometimes, demystify the music, the sounds and the intentions. This is probably the biggest contradiction of all here: instead of just enjoying this wonderful recording, I have to describe it, label it maybe, and most certainly try to adjust the way it transmits freedom to my unsophisticated words.
The quintet of OUXPO consists of Anastasios Savvopoulos on electric guitar, Brad Henkel on trumpet, Philipp Gropper on tenor sax, Felix Henkelhausen on double bass and Dré Hočevar on drums. Two half an hour tracks consist the bulk of Deterritorialization. Lasting a whole one hour, this recording gives enough room from every individual voice to be heard, while the core of the quintet’s thinking is an act and response collective improvisation. It was a big surprise for me to realize that the five of them met, musically, for the first time on this recording.
All of them stay, at least for most of the 60 minutes of it, energetic and quite mobile. At some points I got the feeling that different duos or trios, while playing all together, were formed. Such an intention made clear to me the different levels of interaction, non-linearity and understanding of each other. I was impressed.
The first track is a constant flow of ideas, trumpet phrases and guitar notes while the drums and bass are the backbone – and a solid one indeed – of it. While on the second track their approach is more aggressive, with the plucking of the bass and small percussion attacks coming on the forefront of the recording. This time Savvopoulos’s guitar is the instrument that mediates between silence and melody, totally attentive to everybody else’s moves. A fine recording and a big pleasant surprise as well.” / Fotis Nikolakopoulos, The Free Jazz Collective, 9 March 2020
“Here we have a five-piece improvising group based in Berlin, all names new to me, but they’re very good. Collectively called OUXPO, the leader is the Greek guitarist Anatasios Savvopoulos, and the four other members are American (Brad Henkel, trumpet), German (Philipp Gropper, tenor sax and Felix Heknelhausen, double bass) and Slovenian (Dré Hočevar, drums). Deterritorialization documents two half-hour live performances they gave at a club in Ljubljana in 2018. I’m enjoying the music very much, even if it does remind me for some reason of John Stevens and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble – a lot of their music sounds like it could easily have been made in 1970, and the first OUXPO suite in particular has the same sense of uneasy lostness and cold uncertainty as I savour on records such as Withdrawal (from 1966-67). Even the black and white photos of OUXPO inside the CD here convey the feeling of a journey back in time to a slightly more innocent period where the ‘rules’ of free improvisation hadn’t yet coagulated into the morass of qualified statements, provisional beliefs and contested truths that we currently enjoy across the international musical sector.
However, this may be just a coincidence. If I’m looking for disorientation, I’ve probably come to the right place, since (according to the notes by László Juhász) OUXPO are aiming as ‘a total disruption of expectations’, along with such juicy audience-killers as ‘unfamiliarity’ and ‘lack of definiteness’. This isn’t just unique to OUXPO; Juhász would claim that all improvised music must strive to be new and unfamiliar just to even stay alive, and he draws inspiration from the Derek Bailey book to underscore his point. I suppose even the title Deterritorialization has a part to play in this, suggesting a world view where all the possible musical modes, genres and techniques have been ‘colonised’ to a large extent by warring factions, and the only possible approach is to begin a radical programme of reclaiming this turf by means of ‘deterritorialization’. To put it another way, in my workplace we often speak of managers getting ‘territorial’ when they’re trying to make a power grab or take control of things in a clandestine way. I’d like to think that Anatasios Savvopoulos and his pals are making a bid to redraw the political maps of free improv, though that might be too much a burden to place on their turnups.
And yet this isn’t especially radical or inventive music; OUXPO don’t seem to have the same tabula rasa approach as favoured by Polwechsel, for instance, who were determined to incorporate a lot of modern musical developments into their approach, not all of them derived from the lineage of a strictly free-improv background; conversely, with Savvopoulos’ group, large chunks of the 1980s and 1990s seem to have passed them by. Savvopoulos’ guitar playing in particular – which is absolutely delicious – contains a lot of jazzy licks and melodic riffs of the sort which may please Kenny Burrell fans like myself, but would probably be considered passé by some sterner 21st century players, and even Bailey in 1969 was wondering out loud how he could find a way out of the traps presented by triads and major sevenths. Yet for Deterritorialization, it works perfectly, likewise the restrained and respectful contributions of the other players in this all-acoustic music. For one thing, they never get too loud and they never get ‘skittery’ – the hurdle that afflicted so much English improvisation, when it seemed like every single musician on stage had St Vitus dance or a bad cold (or both). Deterritorialization isn’t EAI either, thank heavens, and instead offers a maximal and rich carpet of notes and musical sounds, all coalescing in an accessible open-ended structure. Juhász urges us to listen out for the ‘sonic and musical personalities of the individuals’, and sure enough the five players do contribute their distinctive voice segments to the whole.
To wrap this up, we should point out this is the very first time they played together. There are a lot of improvising groups who would give their left elbows for a debut recording of such assurance.” / Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, 20 April 2020
“OUXPO, mednarodna zasedba, ki jo sestavljajo grški kitarist Anastasios Savvopoulus, ameriški trobentač Brad Henkel, nemška tenor saksofonist Philipp Gropper in kontrabasist Felix Henkelhausen ter domači bobnar Dre Hočevar, je na nastopu v sklopu FriForme v Gromki v Ljubljani jeseni 2018 posnela enourno ploščo Deterritorialization.
Na albumu sta dve improvizirani kompoziciji, Deteritorialization I in II. Odpre se s subtilnim iskanjem v napetih dolgih zvenih, vse deluje kot uglasitev inštrumentov in različnih naracij posameznih glasbenikov. Deluje, kot da se bodo našli v kontrastu tekstur, a vsakič, ko se že zdi, da je konec negotovosti, se celotna struktura zopet podre. Čim igranje postane za odtenek bolj surovo in oprijemljivo, zasedba razdre jedro navdiha. Kot bi želela svoj nastop zares deteritorializirati na način, kot ga je pred leti v kratkem intervjuju za Radio Študent (ne v kontekstu te zasedbe) Dré Hočevar povzel z besedami Reggieja Workmana: Learn to unlearn. Kljub temu ostaja prisotno prilagajanje, skoraj ugajanje ostalim tovarišem.
Čeprav se zaradi precejšne konvencionalnosti inštrumentov in surovosti pristopa ne zdi tako, si je skupina zadala zahtevno nalogo prosto zaplavati v prostor dozdevno težko kompatibilnih vokabularjev inštrumentalistov, pri katerih ves čas vztrajajo. Mogoče pa je prej omenjeno ugajanje zgolj navidezno oziroma se manifestira prav v (namerno?) ozkem naboru tehnik. Kako lahko v skupinski improvizacijski igri, kjer je cilj vedno večji od vseh vpletenih, posameznik ostane zvest samemu sebi? Mora zakričati? Je keč v tajmingu? Koliko mora dejansko poslušati?
Izzivov je nemalo, nato pa v ospredje stopi kitara kot tista, ki pri pogovoru dolgo modro molči in ko se nazadnje vključi, si rečeš – evo, to je nekdo, ki razmišlja! Podpisani vodja kolaboracije ves čas skrbno orkestrira dogajanje, nevsiljivo, skoraj neopazno. Podtalno narekuje smer kompozicij, vendar hierarhije ni, vsaka ideja si zasluži obravnavo, kar rezultira v neskončni verigi glasbenih skic, ki jim dostikrat zmanjka napetosti, sprostitve, vrhuncev. Večina plošče kljub hektičnosti bobnov in trobente deluje precej zaspano. Medenina očitno izstopa, kakor stalni solist. Kar se funkcionalnosti inštrumentov tiče, zasedba pravzaprav zveni zelo klasično.
OUXPO torej kliče po kontinuiranem skupnem ustvarjanju, kar je zapisano že v spremnem besedilu k ploščku. Tovrstnih kolaboracij je v polju improvizirane muzike mnogo, rušenje temeljev idiomatskih pristopov k muziciranju pa dostikrat izpade nenavdahnjeno. Deterritorializtion je srečanje zelo različnih stilskih dekonstrukcij, ki se ne želijo prehitro povezati v razločljivo formacijo, temveč poskušajo uživati v iskanju skupnega. In ko to skupno najdejo, ni več zabavno.” / Peter Kuntarič, Odzven, 15 July 2020
· DJ Grafiti at Radio Študent, Ljubljana, 8 February 2020