Masahiko Satoh/Sabu Toyozumi

The Aiki
NoBusiness Records CD 120

Tony Oxley/Alan Davie

Elaborations of Particulars

Confront Core 20

Kapital Band 1

International Solidariät

Ni Vu Ni Connu LP 020

Piano-drum duets from three different decades demonstrate the shifting and similar parameters of this form of improvised music over the years. Confirmed once again as well is how despite instrumental similarity the conceptions and programs differ markedly.

Most committed to Free Jazz is The Aiki, which may surprise those who know pianist Masahiko Satoh’s music for film, TV and backing singers. But he’s also worked with the likes of Akira Sakata. His partner on these extended improvisations from 1997 is Japanese free music legend Sabu Toyozumi, who a quarter century later is still refining exploratory percussion with younger players like Rick Countryman. On two tracks of roughly the same length, keyboard elaboration is pronounced, penetrating or profound. The slippery counterpoint set up involves the pianist building up arpeggios or key stabbing at the instrument’s highest pitches as the drummer’s cymbal cracks and press rolls vibrate alongside, with some cowbell whacks for emphasis. By the midpoint of “The Move for the Quiet” after Toyozumi pushes a modified march tempo to jumps and gallops, Satoh’s carefully shaped conveyer belt of notes is transformed into a syncopated version of “Chopsticks”. With the drummer’s rhythm as unvarying as that from a drum machine, Satoh shifts from the mocking interlude to waves of kinetic glissandi and Energy Music-like pounding. These push and pull variations, and the equivalent face-off on the other track confirms the duo’s surging power. As they continue rampaging up and down the scales and reveal notable theme variations, Toyozumi expresses his enthusiasm for the proceedings with shrieking whistles as well as active slaps, rim shots and metal crackles.

While coming from roughly the same generation as Satoh and Toyozumi and with the same experience in post-War Jazz, British percussionist Tony Oxley’s and Scottish piano/percussionist Alan Davie’s Elaborations of Particulars was created with a completely different perspective. Although it was recorded about 20 year before The Aiki, Oxley, also uses electronics, and the older Davie, also a well-known artist, a ring modulator, so that the sound is more fragmented and oscillated. Committed to free music, the CD’s eight tracks evoke a preoccupation with tone and timbre extensions rather than concentrating on raw intensity. Partially because of the electronics, sound convergence squealing metallic crunches and pulsating wooden echoes as well as more expected percussion slaps and keyboard clips and shaking single notes are projected. Drones might result from Oxley’s cymbal slides or Davie’s inner piano reverberations. The alternating counterpoint and consensus evolves with cranked variations of dynamic bell-ringing, drum thumps and speedy piano runs as on “Particular VII” or with low-pitched modulations from piano-harp rumbles and distant wooden or electrified stabs from the percussion. These dynamic contrasts expressed earlier on with buzzes, bites and surging pulsations from both reach a climax on the concluding “Particular VIII”. Beginning with near player-piano runs and inside piano echoes, the ascending pressure brings in oscillated space-ship launching sounds plus kinetic rattles and pops. Climax is attained with broken-octave counterpoint as cymbal clanks signals completion.

Mechanical interface is also expressed on Berlin-based Kapital Band 1’s International Solidariät, which was recorded nearly 40 years later in 2018. While Martin Brandlmayr, who is part of Trapist, plays conventional drums, Nicholas Bussmann, who collaborates with many other sound innovators, uses a robot-controlled grand piano. What that means that over the course of two extended improvisations it appears as if the sways and pulses from a conventional piano are heard along with programmed cascades emanating from a combination of electric and player pianos. With two keyboard motifs sometime audible, Brandlmayr completes the aural picture and preserves a chromatic theme with variable percussion strategies ranging from low-flame intermittent pops to intense boils and clatters. Thickening the sequences, this motion makes space for keyboard splashes or shuffling tone motifs. By the final sections of the second track, interaction become more concentrated and speedier with thick drum motions and cymbal clashes leading to an interlude of metronomic keyboard slashes. Rolling kinetically with additional echoes from the robot-keyboard, the resulting horizontal narrative is completed with a reflective drum shudder.

Each of these sets may be separated by 20 years. But each has created a valid method of using the texture of piano and percussion to its greatest and most original advantage.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Aiki: 1. The Move for the Quiet 2. The Quiet for the Move

Personnel: Aiki: Masahiko Satoh (piano) and Sabu Toyozumi (drums)

Track Listing: Elaborations: Particular I 2. Particular II 3. Particular III 4. Particular IV 5. Particular V 6. Particular VI 7. Particular VII 8. Particular VIII

Personnel: Elaborations: Alan Davie (piano, percussion, ring modulator) and Tony Oxley (percussion and electronics)

Track Listing: Internationale: 1. Internationale Solidarität 2. Internationale Solidarität 2

Personnel: Internationale: Nicholas Bussmann (robot-controlled grand piano) and Martin Brandlmayr (drums)