Ullén/Muller

Into the Staring Town
Creative Sources CS 323 CD

Agustí Fernández/Rafał Mazur

Ziran

NotTwo MW 941-2

Like seemingly identical pebbles on a path, which reveal singular markings when examined under a microscope, creative music using similar instruments can result is widely dissimilar results, even if the landscape is the same. So it is with these two solid instances of free improv. Although both eschew expected musical trappings, Into the Staring Town’s more customary interactions are the equivalent of observing a raw gem stone being polished to alluring symmetry, while the Ziran alliance includes devices that are comparable to accentuating the uncut properties of a raw diamond.

Named for the Daoist concept of attaining a natural, spontaneous state, Ziran combines the sounds from Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández and Krakow’s Rafał Mazur, who plays acoustic bass guitar. Another cross-border meeting, the other CD features veteran German double bassist Torsten Muller and Seoul-born, Stockholm-based pianist Lisa Ullén. Known for his work with the King Übuü Örchestrü and many other Free Jazzers, this disc captures an infrequent meeting between veteran Muller with the younger pianist, who has participated in similar duos with bassist Nina de Heney or cellist Okkyung Lee.

With the CD consisting of only two extended tracks, Into the Staring Town is framed much like a first-time Tinder-suggested date. Using keyboard glissandi, multi-string stopping, angled patterning and staccato squeals, abrasive textures are lobbed at each other, before they settle into a more productive dialogue with the potential for a hookup. With the piano extensions both processional and percussive and the bass work moving from spiccato squeezes to rugged strums that could also come from a 12-strng guitar, parameters for sonic intimacy are set up, with the two extending the tension by producing variations upon variations of a slippery theme. “Closing Down/No Lamp has ever shown us where to look”, the concluding track, finally spins the crunches, clips, plucks and inner-piano string twangs and dark bass string swells into a layered and juddering concordance with Ullén picking out a near-melodic theme and Muller backing it.

In contrast to first-date edginess, Mazur and Fernández aim to reflect the Daoist concept from which Ziran arises: living in harmony with, and in accordance to, the natural flow. This is accomplished by the two figuratively dumping out a bag of extended techniques from buzing piano string plucks and capotes rattles on one hand, to Mazur utilizing the guitar-like and bass-like properties of his instrument as thumping accompaniment to high-string slaps. Moving back and forth while anticipating each others’ moves, while nothing as pedestrian as an overriding theme arises, by “Conversation 3” instrumental speech patterns of both evolve into direct dialogue. Fernández’s single-note hunting-and-pecking moves to kinetic Cecil Taylor-like keyboard exploration as if he’s rappelling down the mountain top at supersonic speeds, while cataloguing all manner of jagged matter as he makes his descent. Meanwhile via the use of calming plucks the bass guitarist creates a buffer for that action. By the final “Conversation 6” the two simultaneously and figuratively attain solid ground, creating a near-recital ready interface that is sonorous and propulsive at the same time.

Never to be confused with those low-key sessions of smooth strings plucking out inoffensive sounds, still neither disc is for everyone. Yet those who want to experience to what lengths apparently identical compounds can be stretched will be enthralled.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Ziran: 1. Conversation 1 2. Conversation 2 3. Conversation 3 4. Conversation 4 5. Conversation 5 6. Conversation 6

Personnel: Ziran: Agustí Fernández (piano) and Rafał Mazur (acoustic bass guitar)

Track Listing: Staring: 1. Open Access/Booming Ground 2. Closing Down/No Lamp has ever shown us where to look

Personnel: Staring: Lisa Ullén (piano) and Torsten Muller (bass)