The River of Sounds
Boxholder BXH 024

Unconvincingly described as an opera by pianist Borah Bergman, this almost 42-minute CD does arrive with emblematic track titles related to a symbolic tale printed in the booklet notes. But with no libretto, no vocals and, in fact, no written music at all, don’t look for its performance at any opera house in the near future.

What this session is in reality, however, is a first time meeting of two American and one German improviser that proves how exceptional free music can be created in such circumstances. It’s also a cross-generational concordant as well, since Brooklyn-born Bergman and Dresden-born trombonist Konrad “Conny” Bauer are several decades older than the third participant, Boston-born and Brooklyn-based electric six-string violinist Mat Maneri. Maneri, in fact, is young enough to literally be the son of either of the other musicians, if, of course, he wasn’t already the scion of multi-reedist Joe Maneri, another iconoclastic free musician, in whose band he still often plays.

Having two other musicians on side only slightly changes the movement of Bergman’s ambidextrous piano style. Described as ambi-ideation by the pianist to explain how both hands become tools for his ideas, its unique polyphony allows him to execute runs and entire passages as easily — and usually at the same time — with his left hand as his right. In the past he has used it to turn orchestral recorded duets with the likes of drummers Hamid Drake and Andrew Cyrille and saxophonists Evan Parker and Oliver Lake among others. The only difference here is that sometimes during the course of a tune you’ll suddenly realize that the two different potent pulses emanating from the piano are singularly intersecting with the violin and the trombone at the same time.

Experienced in solo playing as well as such free group situations as the combos Zentralquartett and Doppelmoppel, Bauer seems to have two personas here as well. Fleet, quasi-bebop runs and modulated, near-tailgate arcs pour from his bell with the power and consistency of a fire drill bell, while other times his low-pitched excursions venture into tuba territory. Possibly recording for the first time with a trombonist, Maneri has had experience with such different pianists as Matthew Shipp and Pandelis Karayorgis. Plus having for years held his own with uncommon players — and having recorded a solo disc — he’s unfazed by the orchestral playing of the two elders here. Sometimes he’ll sound achingly atmospheric single notes, other time he takes advantage of electricity and technique to reach many strings at once.

Showcase pieces on the CD usually start as slowly and stately as processional airs with only a few notes introduced at any one time from any of the players. Then it’s usually Bergman who sets the pace, speedily taking off on full-tilt improvisations and using these pulses to spur the other two into equally frenzied lines. The rest of the time either at slow, moderate or fast pace, the three operate like bumper cars at a carnival ride, sometimes moving their separate ways or deflecting off one another.

At times the pianist hits the keys with such force that they would have to be ivory to survive. Other times he’ll produce little stairstep arpeggios that offset a legato trombone tone from deep within its bell. Or the violinist will switch from extended arco slides to light-fingered electronic vamps, pulling the strings to their limits as Bergman turns into a perpetual keyboard motion machine and Bauer’s intonation turns jagged and tart.

As opera companies and operas composers rest secure in their conservatism, you can experience this non-operative excursion into well-played, all improvised music.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Jim 2. The Blond Woman 3. Spindell Kresge 4. The River of Sounds 5. Children’ Notebooks, Pencils, Little Briefcases 6. D.

Personnel: Konrad “Conny” Bauer (trombone); Mat Maneri (electric six-string violin); Borah Bergman (piano)