July 3, 2017
Blood Stretched Out
Nakama Records NKM 007
Corvo Records No #
Multiple piano textures are the focus of these CD which display the instrument’s vaulted versatility singly, prepared or in multiples.
Orchestral in its foundation, recitals featuring the 88-key instrument have existed from the time the first modern piano was created. Furthermore, unique concepts for multiple piano programs have a long history as well in both the notated and improvised music worlds. An up-to-date variant of this is showcased on 3 Pianos by three Norway-based pianists. A parallel 20th century development by innovators such as John Cage began “preparing” the piano’s innards with all manner of implements while plucking the strings. Austrian Ingrid Schmoliner tries this technique on for size on her six-track Macedonian-language titled suite. However, like antipodean mammals dissimilar to those found elsewhere however, Australian Anthony Pateras’ Blood Stretched Out has created solo piano pieces by, whose only likenesses to other keyboardists may be Cecil Taylor’s most contemporary excursions.
The keyboard trio on 3 Pianos has different origins. Johan Lindvall is an Oslo-based Swede; Ayumi Tanaka, a Japanese improviser now based in Norway, who also leads her own trio; while Kongsberg-born Christian Wallumrød is known for his work with Dans Les Arbes and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. In the main concerned with technique and instrumental engineering, the three function faultlessly as an ensemble with almost no distinguishing tics or techniques to separate one keyboardist’s contributions from those of the others. Sometimes yoked to hesitant pianism, with suspended tones coming from all parts of the instrument(s), the tracks appear to be tainted with excessive chamber-music-style formalism, as if each player was constrained in gait and expression. Plus the rhythmic joy often instigated by three pianist improvising at once has been dispended with decisively. No one hearing the recital is going to confuse these three with boogie woogie masters Peter Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. Some high spots do arise, but infrequently and only when the three finally mute the round-robin and inordinately cautious approach.
The most keyboard animation seems to arrive with the least title verbiage, so that a certain freedom is expressed by the trio on “31’ and “33”. The former could be a pedagogical examination of the piano’s inner workings with backboard, capotes, fallback and other parts of the instrument brought into play. Eventually the back-and-forth movements become somewhat freer, making their points with stopped keys clicking and repetative string pops. Still like a youngster at her first college mixer, none seem to want to let him or herself go long enough to break into more dangerous atonal territory. The most extended track, “33” is also the most percussive, with the suggestion of string detuning and hard knocks against inner and outer wood creating a muscular interaction. Overall, while all three are involved with pushing out tones and timbres, in total the program feels too proper, solemn and nearly bloodless.
If it’s pumping pulsating blood you’re after than an immersion in Pateras’ nearly 44-minute “Blood Stretched Out” title track could be likened to a wallow in a fully functioning slaughter house. A composer/improviser who often works with clarinetist Anthony Burr, Pateras’ CD is the inverse of the Norwegian disc: its multiphonic, repetative and expansive. His performance appears to have to no beginning nor end, and is related to so-called ecstatic Jazz in that when he’s finished playing, exhaustion is an adjective that comes to mind before any others. Following the performance, the thought is that moisture on the piano as well as from the player himself should be wiped down with a wide, thick cloth.
Like an ornamental dagger studded with blunt objects, an opaque hardness and droning cross tones are present almost before this first track’s introduction is completed. From then on the narrative flows unceasingly like a lake swelling following a tempest, thickening and diluting depending on how much pedal power, widely spaced comping or string strangling is in use. Articulated and multiphonic, sequences don’t move in a straight line, but are moderated with counter melodies that often reflect back onto one another. At the same time dense detours threaten to reset the performance, before directing themselves back to the centre again. Intensity is paramount mid-way through opening up more acreages of kinetic real estate before reaching a climax of decorative triplet clusters in the final 10 minutes. Eventually dividing the onslaught between one hand chopping basso notes from the instrument’s bottom and the other interrupting the outflow with shrieking aviary-pitched single notes, key strums introduce an ultimate tone dismantling. Jangling suggestions of high-pitched reed blows or stone-like, rather than drum, resonations are pushed aside for an ending that just expires.
“Blood Stretched Out” fascinates as a display of pure pianistic power and compositional directness, but it leaves open the question of whether Pateras is committed to the piano as an instrument. The answer is alluded to on “Chronochromatics” which is often performed at breakneck speed. Its cascading and kinetic emphasis is studded with bravado moves and again confirms the pianist’s skill. While an emphasis on contrasting dynamics and keyboard clips leads directly to Cecil Taylor’s mature style, the selection lacks Taylor’s passion. Instead, unfortunate comparisons exist with the notated composers’ early 20th century piano showpieces that tried to ape vernacular American music.
Confirmed in her own concept, Schmoliner’s player piano studies are also firmly in the Euro-improv continuum. Like a sprinter exploding onto the track after the starter pistol sounds, she too figuratively hits the ground running, but by dividing her program into six tracks has the discipline to shape her musings. As speedy and percussive as some of Pateras’ narratives, her economical style also allows for allusions to timbres that could arise from a harp, an accordion, bells and even a mellotron or a daxaphone. Eschewing overdubs or treatments, the acoustic strings and keys provide enough sonic elasticity that create dramatic narratives on their own. Opaque mellowness invests “Balaena mysticetus”, while “Бaбa-Яra” gallops as if driven by a platoon of closely drilled rhythmic percussionists. Ending the suite with the same speed and power at which it began, the penultimate “Teadin” is the most descriptive track in that it melds a dulcet horn-like sound with squiggly, pseudo-electronic whistles. What results is a comprehensive narrative that moves in-and-out of aural focus.
Whether extensions of piano performances; results from safety in numbers; or singular keyboard forays, the five pianists here aren’t content with retaining the status quo. However translating ideas into more than techniques can be more difficult than imagined, as at least two of these three sessions confirm.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 3: till patrick modiano no. 1 2. 34 3. till patrick modiano no. 2 4. 31 5. till patrick modiano no. 3 6. romaine brooks 7. 33
Personnel: 3: Ayumi Tanaka, Johan Lindvall and Christian Wallumrød (pianos)
Track Listing: карлицы: 1. Stampa 2. Grul 3. Balaena mysticetus 4. Бaбa-Яra 5. Teadin 6. Zampamuatta
Personnel: карлицы: Ingrid Schmoliner (prepared piano and objects)
Track Listing: Blood: 1, Blood Stretched Out 2. Chronochromatics
Personnel: Blood: Anthony Pateras (piano)