October 27, 2003
HANS FJELLESTAD/PETER KOWALD/DANA REASON/JASON ROBINSON
Eighteen improvisations in duo, trio and quartet formations make up this unique CD, cast as both a memorial to German bassist Peter Kowald and as much more.
Uncomfortable with the idea of turning what had been a spontaneous series of musical meetings with the bassist in 2000 into a full-fledged commemorative disc — with all the presumptuous baggage associated with the act — the three other participants decided on another course. Recording in trio formation almost three years later, they mixed the nine new tracks among the 11 featuring Kowald. The result is a tribute that extends Kowalds ideas within the ongoing musical context that these Californians operate.
One of the reasons this succeeds is that in a symbolic way the three younger musicians are Kowalds children. Pianist Dana Reason and Jason Robinson, who plays tenor saxophone and electronics, are both academics; and while Kowald was rarely in academe he reveled in teaching — formally and informally. Hans Fjellestad, who plays piano and synthesizer on the CD, is also a filmmaker and Kowald, who was in the midst of creating a documentary OFF THE ROAD with Laurence Petit-Jouvet when he arrived in San Diego, was an integral part of other filmed musical performances and was involved with many interdisciplinary performances as well. Robinson and Fjellestad are also members of the Trummerflora Collective, dedicated to nurturing and promoting creative music in ways similar to how Europeans like Kowald, Alexander von Schlippenbach first disseminated their sounds in the late 1960s.
On pure musical grounds, Balanced State and Lunar Cycle, which feature Kowald and Fjellestad plus Reason on the former, and Robinson on the later, demonstrate the bassists rapport. On the first, one pianists low frequency, reverberating explorations meet a tugged, echoing bass lines and high-intensity glissandos from the other piano. At times all seem to dip into New music experimentation, but as the 166 keys follow discursive arpeggios and chords, gradually increasing the tempo, Kowald plucks out a single beat effectively ending the piece with straightforward rhythmic bass thrusts.
The second tune explodes from the starting gate, with the bassmans abrasive sandpaper-strength strumming and Teutonic shouts running roughshod over impressionistic piano chords and intense, slurred reed vibrations. As Reason feints and jabs the keys and Robinson tries on different single notes for size, Kowald slices away at his strings.
Individually, Kowald seems to have the most rapport with Reason, with their two duets built on contrasting dynamics from the piano and arco bass. On Discursive Matter she appears to be alternating quick fingers on consonant and dissonant chords, while he pumps away with an almost tuba-like tone from the bass clef. On Glass Agitprop she sounds out flashing arpeggios that he comments upon with compressed, lacerated bass swipes. As a pianist, Fjellestad in duo with bassist Kowald sounds merely jazzy, sort of like a nervy Bill Evans working with Eddie Gomez. Robinson responds better on Tomorrows Question, when the tough, repetitive bass playing leads the reedist to guttural spits, Bronx cheers from his reed, and out-and-out screeches.
Tellingly, the three quartet pieces are almost textbook EuroImprov, replete with protracted silences. With what sounds like internal piano preparations dampening the strings actions, the leitmotif of all revolves around sound not melody. Sandpaper-like scrapes arrive from the bass, the piano(s) keys are clipped and high-intensity cadenzas are sounded; while the reedist confines himself to bird tweets, honks and whistles.
On the Californians seven instant compositions, Fjellestads synthesizer and Robinsons electronics are more prominent. A climax of sorts is reached on Torus Knot, where regular piano chording underlines tongue slaps, whistles and a strained, wheezy tenor sax timbre. Around it oscillations approximate sounds that could come from a jet plane or a toilet flushing. Elsewhere, Reason sticks to tremolos and curlicue patterns, abrasive drones and whistles arise from the synthesizer, and the saxman tries out squeaks, honks and staccato lines that involve the body tube more than the reed.
Dual-energy X-ray, the last tune, may even be a requiem of sorts for the bassist, as the synth lines bubble, the tenor saxophonist showcases spetrofluctuation and irregular, yet mellow body tube vibrations, and the pianist constructs low-frequency impressionistic whorls of sounds.
Kowalds legacy is in good hands.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Dual Resonance I +%~* 2. Axial Current I+%~ 3. Viscous Matter %* 4. Dark Matter +* 5. String Theory +%~ 6. Dual Resonance II +%~*7. Discursive Matter~* 8. Torus Knot+%~ 9. Balanced State%~* 10. Manifold Runners+%~ 11. Circulatory Stasis%* 12. Tomorrows Question+* 13. Free Anomaly+%~ 14. Dual Resonance III+%~* 15. Glass Agitprop~* 16. Cylindrical Matrix+%~ 17. Lunar Cycle+%* 18. Dual-energy X-ray+%~
Personnel: Jason Robinson (tenor saxophone and electronics)+; Hans Fjellestad (piano and synthesizer)%; Dana Reason (piano)~; Peter Kowald (bass)*