2nd Set
Radical Records M PE 047


Ebro Delta

Hybrid CD 18

Every day it seems, impressive improvising musicians are appearing in places most North Americans don’t associate with innovative sounds or even modern music. Appearing, of course is a relative term. In cases like this the “appearance” isn’t any more a description than our concept of Columbus “discovering” the New World, which had existed for many previous millennia.

Pianist Augustí Fernández, 47, for instance, a resident of Barcelona, Spain, has been a professional since he was 13, under the acknowledged influence of one American and one European model: Cecil Taylor and Iannis Xenakis. In the years since 1985 he has recorded at least a dozen CDs and worked with musicians as different as saxophonist Evan Parker, cellist France-Marie Uitti, Butoh dancer Andrés Corchero and a local improvising vocal group. Reflecting his bifurcated regimen, these two accomplished CDs pinpoint both sides of his pianistic conception.

Fernández first played with ubiquitous bassist William Parker in New York in 1997, and recorded with him and drummer Susie Ibarra in Barcelona the following year. More than a follow up, 2ND SET is both an intensification and an expansion of that trio meeting.

Divided between two massive — almost 25 minute and more than 32 minute — improvisations with a fleet interlude separating them, the disc finds the pianist in his most weighty free jazz role. Confining himself mostly to the bass region and bottom notes of the instrument — and heavy on the sustain pedal — his constant keystrokes can remind you of a building orgasm, waiting for release.

“Part I” finds Parker stroking his bass strings with similar intensity, as his bow thrusts push the pianist closer to the edge, exposing a forward motion that soon has him ranging all over the keyboard. Echoing overtones that range from bass to treble soon begin to suggest other sounds like dense electronics as well as different chordal instruments with what could be as a whimsical harpsichord pluck or a pedal steel guitar whine. Later, as Parker moves from scratching out arco cello parts to creating guitar-like strums with his bass, Fernández climaxes by rubbing and manipulating the piano’s strings until both musicians are spent and satisfied.

Following the interlude, “Part II” — which is the same length of many 1960s’ LPs — is even more intense. Proving that he’s ambidextrous as well as multi-functional, Fernández at times appears to be advancing two — or sometimes three (!) — themes simultaneously. As light and airy as “Part I” was dark and dank, the pianist begins playing so quickly that the wood of the piano practically echoes. Not thought of as the retiring type, the bassist usual Herculean plucks are practically rendered inaudible by Fernández’s efforts. Displaying his mettle, Parker eventually signals the piece’s conclusion with some high-pitched, metallic bowing.

If 2ND SET exposes the so-called American side of Fernández’s improvisations, then EBRO DELTA, recorded more than two years earlier, showcases his purported European persona. If his playing is thick and note-crammed with Parker, here it’s roomier, more expansive and intentionally hesitant. A shorter disc than the first, it’s also divided among 13 tracks — most in the one, two and three minute range.

Also, as opposed to Parker, a free jazz maven since the late-1970s, who is best-known for his work with Cecil Taylor, David S. Ware and his own large and small bands, classically trained Christoph Irmer, a native of Wuppertal, Germany, has only been improvising since the early 1990s.

Still his use of unconventional techniques have helped him make up for lost time and since then he has been a member of bassist Peter Kowald’s Ort-Ensemble, and recorded with guitar torturer Hans Tammen, bassist Dominic Duval, and percussionist Jay Rosen.

Collaborating in the language of scratches and scrapes, the pianist and violinist approach the shorter tunes similarly with sharp, machine-like runs from the keyboard and extended, jagged arco gashes from the fiddle. Sometimes you can imagine the two as mechanized robots, performing in a sci-fi chamber recital on Planet X.

Only “Was da im Wasser blinkt”, which melds dancing piano patterns and straightforward, almost 19th century bowing from Irmer produces a different sort of duet, as do the CD’s two longest pieces.

“Fire Animals Laughing Creeping Screaming”, with its English, rather than German title and lasting a little more than 10 minutes could be heard as the complete score for a short ballet mechanique. With Irmer reverberating more than one string at a time, Fernández responds by diving hands-first into the piano bowels, producing harp

sonorities. When Irmer turns high-hatish and begins to play a short, sprightly melody, the pianist dons his aural clown’s costume and begins crashing and banging on the reverberating strings and keys. Merely touching the string with his bow, the violinist then creates something analogous to a saxophonist’s pitch vibrato, encouraging both players to create a series of piercing tones that sound like nails whistling as they’re being pulled along unyielding metal.

Even more extensive and totaling more than at 12½ minutes, the four-part “Suite in D” comes across as a parody of oh-so-pretentious Mittel European chamber concerts, with the duo’s presentation resembling a knife fight more than a courtly fencing session.

From the beginning, when the two seem to take turns banging on the sides of their respective instruments as often as they sound the strings, they manage to musically move the suite frontward as they mock it. “Adagio morbido” is just that, oozed out so morbidly slowly that the notes appear to be so nearly motionless that they’re almost stillborn. “Furioso” must relate more to haste than anger, since the violinist, especially, creates speedy bowed lines, that are occasionally interrupted by the occasional finger pluck. In the finale Fernández appears to be reaching inside the piano to pluck strings as well, as he and Irmer move from arco (well, touch, in the pianist’s case) to pizzicato and back again. Gathering his strength the pianist ends the piece with a crashing heavy note, only to have the violinist get in the last word — er, note — with a final yank.

As demonstrated by these CDs, Fernández, like his countryman Picasso, can create in different modes, with the texture and color varying with the mood and situation. Both sessions are worth investigation, with your choice depending on your particular preferences. Maybe you’d like both.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 2nd: 1. Second Set Part I 2. Interlude 3. Second Set Part II

Personnel: 2nd: Agustí Fernández (piano); William Parker (bass)

Track Listing: Ebro:1 Hartes Gestein 2. Vögel in Pappeln gehen schlafen 3. Barceló 4. Fire Animals Laughing Creeping Screaming 5. Was da im Wasser blinkt 6. Luxury 7. La casa del piano 8. Suite in D: Allegro 9. Suite in D: Adagio morbido 10. Suite in D: Furioso 11. Suite in D: Finale 12. Halbschlaftraum (nach der Siesta) 13. Was geschehen ist (Erinnerung/Coda)

Personnel: Ebro: Christoph Irmer (violin); Agustí Fernández (piano)