Scott Thomson (trombone) and Lori Freedman (Bb and bass clarinets) first played together in Toronto in 2006 where they immediately identified shared musical affinities: dynamics of tone and timbre, heterodox lyricism, the internal propulsion and forward motion of openly improvised material, freedom of expression, and play. Their instant rapport made it promising to record Plumb (2007, Barnyard Records), the first recording in Thomson’s and a notable addition to Freedman’s discography. In his liner notes, esteemed music writer Mark Miller identified the duo’s “folksy sort of virtuosity –– amiable, agreeably unpretentious, and without the patented sheen of the conservatory.” In the years to follow, and especially after Thomson’s move to Montreal in 2010, the pair would work frequently in the Ratchet Orchestra, Murray Street Band, and Ensemble SuperMusique, for example, but only in 2021 did they reconvene for a follow-up duo recording, Amber (2022, Clean Feed Records).

Freedman and Thomson are both acclaimed solo performers and have been featured as soloists at the renowned Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, for instance. Separately, they delve deeply into the technical and expressive resources of their instruments to satisfyingly sustain long-form solo improvisations. However, the duo is markedly more than the combination of its soloist parts, and each agrees that the other impels him or her to thrilling, visceral music they simply would not play otherwise, an alchemy of group improvisation. Ranging crazily from quiet stasis to chops-throttled entropy, the duo’s current music, made abundantly manifest on Amber, is richly reinvented in every vital incarnation.

Prior to the pandemic, over about fifteen years, the duo played a total of five concerts, though they played together in numerous other group contexts. In 2022 alone, re-energised by the Amber recording, they played 24 concerts in seven countries and three continents.

“[Amber] can suggest the dynamic abstraction of atomic particles or create compound illusions of fluttering wings and small animals in woodland nests, all simultaneously evoking the processes of amber itself, its million-year transformations of matter hinted at in instants.” Stuart Broomer, Amber liner note.

Full concert video of Amber at Libres en el Sonido Series, Matik-Matik, Bogotá, 12 October, 2022, a concert produced by Melissa Vargas Franco

Full concert video of Amber at Fundación Sebastian, CDMX, 20 October, 2022, a concert produced by Alain Derbez

• Amber featured in La Jornada, CDMX

• Review of Amber (Clean Feed CF606CD) in Wholenote Magazine (Vol 28 No 4 Feb-March 2023) by Raul de Gama:

In a mundane word, amber is just a fossilised tree resin with a prescient glow. However, in the hands, tongues and lips of clarinetist Lori Freedman and trombonist Scott Thomson Amber is a manysplendoured metaphor redolent of golden colours and tones that define more than merely their duelling instruments. With the repertoire on this album, the music of Amber evokes a kind of Romance language with which to connect with the very heart of the music continuum.

From start to finish both clarinetist and trombonist create a high-spirited and lyrical palimpsest featuring some truly beautiful writing and daring improvisation. With each variation the two musicians penetrate aspects of amber with strength, precision and charming, idiosyncratic virtuosity.

You’ll be made to forget that works like Sesquiterpenoids, Glessite, Succinite and Labdanoid have anything at all to do with nature, aglow with resins and hydrocarbons that have formed over centuries since the before the Neolithic Age. Instead you will be dazzled by each piece; an idiomatic meditation suggestive of a proverbial melody imbued in amber.

Listening to Freedman’s and Thomson’s performances you would not stop marvelling at how two artists use their musicianship – albeit uncommonly ingenious – to reflect the vitality and many-layered originality of this music. And how bellowing B-flat and bass clarinets and growling trombone can turn the artists’ metaphor into music with a sensuousness and voluptuous beauty all its own.

Bravo to both for this visionary music.

• Review of Amber (Clean Feed CF606CD) in the Norwegian journal, Salt Peanuts by Jan Granlie, via Google Translate:

[Amber] is free improvisation by two musicians who are close to each other, and who complement each other in an exciting way. Scott Thomson’s trombone playing is out of this world. In fact, I can’t remember hearing a trombonist with such eminent technique and so many ideas, which he lets flow beyond the duo collaboration, and occasionally the playing makes you think it’s possible to perform it without dubbing. And Lori Freedman is a skilled listener who pays close attention to the trombone, both with the Bb clarinet and, not least, the bass clarinet. And together they have made a brilliant record that you have to concentrate on to catch all the details of the game of the two. Just listen to the trombone playing in the third track “Cadinene”. Unbelievable!

This has become an intense duo record that you should listen to in private, or together with someone with the same slightly twisted ideas about what constitutes exciting music. Because this is not music for the “everyman”. This is music that invites intense concentration, and if you take your time, you will discover a world of improvisation that surpasses most.

Many years ago, Anthony Braxton made the extremely exciting duo record Elements Of Surprise on the Moers Music company with trombonist George Lewis, where in addition to doing Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology”, they did some Braxton and Lewis compositions, which can almost be compared to what we get served here. Thomson has a lot of Lewis in her enormous, technical and exciting playing, while Freedman is close to Braxton in how she perceives and takes hold of the music.

An extremely exciting, creative and distinctive duo recording!