Moment's Notice

Reviews of Recent Recordings


Georg Graewe Quartet
Amsterdam, October 1998
Random Acoustics 029

Georg Graewe + Ernst Reijseger + Gerry Hemingway
Kammern I-V
Auricle 18

After a somewhat lengthy gap between recordings, the superb pianist/composer Georg Graewe has been on a tear the last few years. Aside from new materials, fans can also savor tasty treats from the archives, like these two from some of Graewe’s strongest groups.

The well-loved trio with cellist Ernst Reijseger and percussionist Gerry Hemingway hits the ground running on this 2009 date. By this point, Hemingway was regularly using the marimba in this trio’s performances, and the interlocking that he and Graewe get up to is thrilling. They move seamlessly from fast-developing skeins to luminous space, with Graewe sometimes sounding like a cross between Paul Bley and Ursula Oppens. That’s precisely the intersection this trio can nail, their vast range of references like a shared language, backed up by their superlative simpatico, as when they spontaneously offer up the loveliest chordal flourishes as one.

The high velocity exchange of ideas, though, does not come at the expense of quick-shift dynamism. They never simply mash the accelerator, but rather, they concentrate on particular ideas briskly and efficiently, as with the jabs and slashes on the bagatelle “Kammern II.” There is a seamlessness and unity to this music, even when it expresses itself in contrast and divergence. For much of “Kammern III,” for example, there’s a heavy emphasis on counter lines that pull slowly apart, as Hemingway and cellist Reijseger sound like they’re pursuing two separate pulse tracks while Graewe takes flight. This piece is the standout to my ears, with moments of powerful expressiveness (Reijseger’s soaring upper register lines), fabulous contrapuntal marimba/cello duo, and sections where Graewe’s jaw-dropping technique has him sounding like Tristano on 45 rpm. But I’d be remiss not to note the beautiful double-stopping in the Reijseger solo that opens “Kammern IV,” which moves into bowed metal and slow-moving chords, only to conclude with a furious dustup. Really, just a terrific album.

The Graewe Quartet – including reedist Frank Gratkowski, bassist Kent Kessler, and drummer Hamid Drake – recorded a corker for Okkadisk a couple decades back. This bracing live shot from 1998 finds the group in righteous form over the course of the 53-minute “Passing Scopes II.” The key to a rewarding performance of this is duration. And owing to the ace instincts of these players individually and as a group, this set has plenty of it. You can hear it right away as they navigate the shift from the opening’s soft patter to the intensity that follows. It’s hard not to be reminded how the irresistible Kessler/Drake colossus facilitates these things. It’s not just irresistible for listeners: just listen to how they goose Graewe and Gratkowski, whether on boiling alto or sinuous clarinet. So, while in certain passages – like the fascinating scalar work at about the 45-minute mark – the two Germans sound like they’re transforming Morton Feldman into Elliott Carter, there are others where the quartet just dives into the tastiest inside-out swing. Presto-change-o! Same goes for the sudden shift at nearly 30 minutes in, right after a section where Gratkowski spits Braxtonian fire over a low-end tempest, when things drop off crisply into the most spacious, pointillistic exploration. It’s the combo of elegant builds and sudden shifts, explorations of register shift or dynamism, that captures the range of what this powerhouse combo could achieve on the right night. Give thanks that the tape was rolling.
–Jason Bivins


Jo Kondo
Satoko Inoue Presents Jo Kondo’s New Works for Piano
ezz-thetics 1011

Composer Jo Kondo ought to be better known than he is, but his music was never recorded much and few of those recordings are currently available. This recent release of Kondo’s works for piano, mostly composed between 2001 and 2012, should help that a bit. Pianist Satoko Inoue recorded a previous volume of Kondo’s music and has dug deeply in to performing works by 20th Century composers such as Toru Takemitsu, John Cage, Morton Feldman, and others. A number of the pieces on this set were composed specifically for her, and her measured and cleanly-articulated attack make her the perfect choice for performing this program.

In his liner notes to his 1970s recording Sen no ongaku, Kondo explains that his concept of composition “can be roughly translated as ‘linear music.’ At first this music will sound to most people like a row of endless tones that proceed without interruption, always wrapped out in a kind of simple artlessness ... In order to be able to hear one sound after another, in time and space, it is important not to treat the sounds in groups.” The eight compositions on this disc, ranging from the opening 1 minute miniature “Gamut” to the 13 minute closing “Tennyson Songbook,” each explore that notion of unadorned “linear music” in various fashions, revealing the shimmering eloquence of Kondo’s sensibility.

The opening “Gamut” is a succinct introduction to Kondo’s approach. In just over a minute, a simple phrase is presented, inverted, and slightly teased apart, looping back on itself for a concise conclusion. “Ritornello” builds on that concept, with recurring passages that act as simple refractions of the initial theme. Inoue’s crystalline attack and pristine articulation is paramount to revealing the inner logic of the composition. In his liner notes, Kondo talks about the title “Metaphonesis” as a neologism to express “making a sound a sound about the sound.” One wonders whether he thought about the historical linguistic term metaphony in which vowels toward the beginning of a word influences subsequent vowels in the word. In the case of this piece, a simple melodic line is laid out and over the course of 10 minutes, minutely transformed. While pace and dynamics change with discerning control, the thread to the initial statement of the line is maintained throughout with a keen patience by the pianist.

Kondo pairs “Sight Rhythmics” on this recording with “The Shape Follows Its Shadow.” In the first piece, he deals with what he calls “pseudo-repetition” or “dynamic stasis.” Here the piece is divided into six brief sections, each of which follows the same form with slight variation. While the memory of the form accrues over the course of the piece, the subtle changes toy with memory and perception as elusive frays and deviations are threaded in. “The Shape Follows Its Shadow” takes a single abstract melodic line and slows it down so that, in the words of the composer, “each sound almost stands still.” Here, memory works in a complementary but different way, as movement and line are grasped from the resonance as notes and chords are struck and their sustain is allowed to decay into silence. The closing “Tennyson Songbook (Four Parts)” is a piano arrangement of a song cycle built around Tennyson’s poem “The Princess.” Here, the song-like melodic threads seem almost maximalist in comparison to what has preceded. But that is all in context, as the intertwined lines weave their way with an assured linearity, methodically decomposing and then restructuring an open, abstract melodic thread across the 12-and-a-half-minute piece. Getting more of Kondo’s work released is fervently welcomed. Particularly with readings by someone so steeped in his music. One hopes that ezz-thetics will re-issue the first volume of the piano works so that more people can experience Kondo’s singular piano music.
–Michael Rosenstein


Tomas Korber + Konus Quartett
Cubus Records CR373

One thing that is notably missing from the name of the Bern, Switzerland-based Konus Quartett is the signifier “saxophone.” Formed about fifteen years ago, the members Christian Kobi (tenor and soprano sax), Fabio Oehrli (soprano sax), Jonas Tschanz (alto and soprano sax), and Stefan Rolli (baritone sax) have never really functioned like a saxophone quartet. Instead, they’ve anchored constantly morphing ensembles, pulling in various collaborators and composers to explore and stretch the timbral boundaries of their respective and collective horns. They’ve premiered pieces by composers as diverse as Martin Brandlmayr, Jürg Frey, Barry Guy, and Tomas Korber, and have performed works by Peter Ablinger, John Cage, Georg Friedrich Haas, Phill Niblock, and Iannis Xenakis to name a few. Though they’ve performed regularly over the years, they’ve only recorded a few times, so this captivating LP, their second album featuring a collaboration with Swiss electronic musician and composer Tomas Korber is particularly welcome.

Their first release with Korber, Musik für ein Feld (also on Cubus Records) interwove hisses, burrs, keypad pops, and shimmering overtones with Korber’s sine waves, feedback, and processing which advanced with a steady deliberation of the course of 67 minutes. The more compact Anschlussfehler (Anschluss – Continuity, the state or quality of being continuous; Fehler – Error, a deviation from truth or accuracy) functions quite differently. This time out, the instrumentation is for two sopranos, tenor, and baritone along with Korber’s computer processing and though the piece begins with spare, breathy sounds, it employs far more activity and density than the earlier piece.

Anschlussfehler starts with the sound of breath resonating in the conical bore of a saxophone tinged with hissing overtones. Glitched electronic abrasions are introduced, at first as subtle shadings and then gradually building and mixing in with the sounds of keypad flutters and more overtone interaction. There is a mounting insistency as the arrhythmic phrase repeats, opening up to the statement of a pure tone. Then things explode. Reed sounds buffet against each other as scouring electronics scuff and chafe the reed timbers, creating shuddering walls of clamor that pan across the speakers. The piece functions in sections, with areas of what sound initially like pure reed tones, though close listening makes one wonder how much the electronics function to “deviate from truth or accuracy” or the acoustic sources.

The open interaction of the sound of Korber’s processing and the expansive acoustics of the reeds is what assiduously drives this recording. Catch the way Korber picks up the resonant bottom end of the horns and pushes that into throbbing sub-bass or the way that flutters and small kernels of phrases are picked up and refracted into coursing cross-layers of electronic buzz and tremor. Lines between Anschluss|Continuity and Fehler|Error are collapsed, layered back on itself, and expanded upon. Strata of density are built up and then exploded into sections of textural detail, only to ramp back up again with collective resolve. The recording and mastering reveal the full spectrum of nuances of the piece. Interestingly, listening to this on LP, while providing an analog richness, also introduces a layer of playback glitch inherent in all but the most pristine environments. This is a distinctive project and entrancing listen.
–Michael Rosenstein


Ingrid Laubrock + Aki Takase
Intakt CD 337

Kasumi unites two artists who have found acclaim in their adopted lands, with the frisson being that Japanese pianist Aki Takase’s landing is German saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock’s departure point. They first performed together at the 2016 Berlin Jazz Festival and such was the success of that encounter that they have continued to meet, culminating in the visit to the studio which produced these chamber-inclined duets, five from the pen of each principal, with four joint efforts. A program of 14 cuts in 50 minutes, only two cresting the five-minute barrier, demands succinct expression in which not a gesture is wasted, and that’s what they serve up.

To oversimplify, Laubrock tends towards non-repeating lines which come across as cerebral and non-idiomatic, while Takase magpie-like draws from a vast array of influences in a playful mashup. That’s true of both her playing and writing. Cases in point are the dramatic lockstep of “Andalusia,” the perky circus-tinged “Harlekin,” and the jaunty classically-inflected syncopations of “Density.” By contrast, Laubrock’s pirouetting “Brookish” recalls Anthony Braxton’s crenulated staccato figures, while her “Sunken Forest,” the longest cut, moody unison phrases frame first unaccompanied features for both, and then a duo extemporization.

But both are supreme improvisers and although corkscrew twists are encoded in their DNA, whatever the style, they incorporate reference to the thematic material in the open sections, while also seeking opportunities to subvert it. Such is their innate sense of structure, restraint and focus that the improvs are only slightly more freewheeling than the charts. The inaugural title track pitches romantic piano against coolly slithering tenor in what could be heard as drawn out call and response, which eventually merges into enigmatic poetry.

Although generally Laubrock restricts the unbridled tonal exploration which is her hallmark to expressive snatches, they are both at their most rambunctious on the brief collective “Scurry” which starts in a flurry of careening piano and overblown tenor, before screeching to a sudden halt after which Laubrock invokes a rhythmic motif, affirmed by Takase’s pounding cadence. The final “Luftspiegelung” gently unspools into flowing improv, Laubrock’s breathy Websterian tenor hitting the same upper register accents as the piano, before another pause which heralds snappy interplay. It provides a satisfying end to an album which is by turns austere, smart, and volatile, but always empathetic.
–John Sharpe



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