Hopscotch Records HOP 10

Excessive intellectualism is one of the most common properties ascribed to completely improvised music like this. Especially if, as on this duo CD, it involves experienced European virtuosi such as Spanish pianist Augustí Fernández and British guitarist and elder statesman of the genre, Derek Bailey.

But, while the collective biographies of the two encompass experience in contemporary classical music, dance band sounds, studio pop and most definitely jazz, a cozy duo session like this one could be linked to an earlier tradition. Performing together in a Barcelona studio, aren’t Fernández and Bailey expressing themselves in a so-called folkloric way? Bringing experience and mother wit into play as each deals with the other’s techniques and inspirations, they appear to be following early urban blues partnerships such as pianist Georgia Tom and guitarist Tampa Red or pianist Leroy Carr and guitarist Scrapper Blackwell.

Obviously, unlike those 1930s sessions, there are no vocals here, and the selections last much longer than a 78’s three minute running time — “Casa Leopoldo” alone is 23 minutes plus — yet the excitement and honest sense of discovery is common. In contrast to today’s neo-cons, in fact, these so-called primitive bluesmen would probably not be shocked by the Europeans’ unorthodox methodology either. They evolved new ways if playing their instruments, just as those involved in EuroImprov have.

On “Senyor Parellada”, for instance, the pianist’s ripe tremolos often suggest that he’s creating 21st Century boogie-woogie, which Jelly Roll Morton said had to have “that Spanish tinge” anyway. Meanwhile, Bailey’s flat picking can be heard as an extension of Swing band sounds. Percussive in his bass string forays, the guitarist uses minimal amplification and tinctures of feedback to attenuate his ideas. Often preferring to stroke the portion of he strings beneath the bridge and on the fretboard than the instrument’s centre, he invites the pianist to match tones, sending Fernández to use the piano’s harp-like internal strings or produce an atonal staccato keyboard gliss.

The 23-plus-minute centrepiece even finds Fernández, whose playing partners have included saxophonist Evan Parker, bassist William Parker and drummer Susie Ibarra, aping player piano tones. At times the keyboard sounds as if it’s a harpsichord or a spinet, while Bailey chugs along with banjo-like flailing. A bit too long, the piece resolves itself as the pianist leans on the pedals to unleash a string symphony of smashes, wheezes and internal rumbling. Elsewhere, though, on “7 Portes”, for instance, constant arpeggios characterize Fernández’s touch as resounding fervor threatens to take over the entire sound space. Bailey’s wavering lines sometime make it appear that he’s wielding a bottleneck guitar, until he produce ear-splitting feedback as his side of the equation.

Then there’s “Esterri”, the fastest and shortest number on the disc. Bailey’s unqualified rhythm guitar strokes and the pianist’s super staccato and super quick patterns amplified with the sustain pedal, almost transform the two into country dance musicians. Powerful enough to impel committed high steppers across a floor, a variation of the music could have been produced by barrelhouse specialists 90 years ago whose steady cadence encouraged bushed sawmill workers to shuffle along all night.

With empiricism, intelligence and technical proficiency, Bailey and Fernández have created a highly functional set of music that in its context is as free, welcoming and understandable as blues piano-guitar duets were in their time. It’s certainly a disc that will be sought after by fans of either of the two men, and interested others.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Senyor Parellada 2. Botafumerio 3. Esterri 4. Casa Leopoldo 5. 7 Portes 6. Medulio

Personnel: Derek Bailey (guitar); Augustí Fernández (piano)