Moritz Eggert

I Belong This Road I Know
Between the Lines

The Very Life of Art

By Ken Waxman
October 23, 2005

Respectively Austrian and German, pianist-composers Hannes Loeschel and Moritz Eggert exemplify those youngish Continental musicians who refuse to be limited to either improvised or notated situations.

Close in age to one another – Loeschel was born in 1963 in Vienna and Eggert in 1965 in Heidelberg – both perform as well as compose. With his feet usually planted on the so-called serious side of the divide, the prize-winning and prodigiously educated Eggert has written operas, ballets, a huge “football oratorio” and works in dance and theatre. Yet his versatility extends to creations for accordion and cello, two electric guitars – both featured here – and a concert-length cycle for solo piano, the most recent live version of which he plays himself on I Belong This Road I Know.

Possessing his own collection of awards, Loeschel, who usually lines up on the improv side of the fence, has written for chamber ensembles, film, dance and even puppet theatre. Interested in electro-acoustic sounds – as is Eggert – he also works regularly in ensembles with other international improvises such as German bassist Peter Herbert, American drummer Gerry Hemingway and local electronic manipulator Josef Novotny.

Firmly in the improv camp, The Very Life of Art showcases Kinds, a trio made up of Loeschel on piano and electronics, Berlin-born bassist Achim Tang, who works with folks like pianist Oskar Aichinger, and American slide guitarist David Tronzo, whose CV includes stints playing with everyone from The Lounge Lizards and pianist Wayne Horvitz to working on movie soundtracks.

The obvious point of congruence between these two CDs should be “Hämmerklavier XII: highway 61”, an almost-15-minute piano solo by Eggert, based on folk-blues guitarist Mississippi Fred McDowell’s version of the traditional tune, and Loeschel’s much shorter – 3½-minute –“Close”, dedicated to another country blues guitarist, North Carolina’s Blind Boy Fuller. But since Tronzo’s picking seems imbued with blues licks throughout the program, other tracks reflect this sensibility as well.

An extended example of this is the guitarist’s own, more-than-14½-minute “Slow Motion Life”. Here, initial bottleneck guitar whines meet clobbered and internally stopped strings in Loeschel’s piano and tremolo backing wallops from Tang. As the pianist involves himself in cross-handed note patterning and high frequency syncopation, Tronzo’s reverb sprays concentrated note patterns and strains bottleneck resonation forward. Procuring his own percussion from the key bed, Loeschel’s buzzing interface soon turns to a single-paced descending line, as he and the guitarist trail one another in creating short patterns. Moving the tune from the blues to behind-the-beat, jazzy swing, Loeschel encourages Tang to bow and Tronzo to snake out resonating lines. Climax finds the three harmonizing additional blues licks in triple counterpoint.

More superficially bluesy, “Close”, finds the pianist and bassist setting the stage with Sunnyland Slim-style arpeggios and Willie Dixon-like plucks before the guitarist enters with stinging bottleneck textures. Adagio and almost arrhythmic, distinctive blues textures ooze all over the composition. Yet Loeschel avoids cliché by appending cross-handed comping and internal bass-string stopping to standard blues modulation.

If Kinds’ blues compositions aren’t wearing sharecropper overalls, but the jeans and sport shirts of post modernism, then Eggert’s “Hämmerklavier XII: highway 61”, wears the tuxedo, cummerbund and bow tie of the formal concert stage. Written for Dutch pianist Marcel Worms Blues concert series, the composition has echoes of Paul Whiteman’s attempts to elevate jazz into the concert hall.

Rollicking at points like a Rent Party, the piece, recorded live, feature the composer pummeling honky-tonk licks from the keys, replicating knife-style guitar chords with internal string actions, stomping his feet, hitting the wood on the concert grand’s side and blowing what sounds like buzzy kazoo and breathy harmonica lines to accompany all this. As he stops and strikes the centre nodes and partials, his chording becomes so exaggerated that he could be using a player piano.

With his harmonica styling more in the Bob Dylan (primitive) than Sonny Boy Williamson (sophisticated) genus, the mouth instruments merely serve to accent the broken harmonies and strummed bottleneck suggestions from his playing. Yet as many times as he reprises the thematic blues modulation, introduces Stride walking-bass patterns or bangs the lowest-pitched keys with his elbow, elevated voicing and tones remind you this is a concert hall presentation. Romantic interludes and near-snatches of symphonic jazz’s premier elevated melody, “Rhapsody in Blue”, leave the nagging suspicion that Eggert may conceive of this as musical slumming.

Bashing as many keys and exploding as many knife-sharp node-stopped cadences as possible is one thing, but when he sprints across the board with Rubinstein-like facility, you wonder if vibrating wound strings is his response to post-modernism, with the blues being burlesqued not honored.

Nagging doubt almost turns to certainty on his only other appearance on the CD, partnering his main duo partner, cellist Sebastian Hess. The two perform “Fast Forward” in a neo-romantic style, yet only in the final variations do splintering piano accents and double counterpoint imply this is more than a standard concert recital.

Oddly enough, the traditionally voiced “La Risposta” for Elsbeth Moser’s bajan accordion and Nicolas Altstaedt’s cello do more to negate this worry than the showy “Riff” for the dual electric guitars of Frank Wingold and Ralph Beerkircher. Alive with glissandi and pizzicato curvature, the former uses the instruments’ coarser textures and smears to exhibit sophisticated polyharmony, only to end with legato strokes.

Polyphonic and chromatic, “Riff” arrives with the uneasy thought that both performers and composer disdain uncomplicated chording and duo harmonies when discordant zither-like scrapes can add the proper POMO fillip. Before the quivering feedback that completes the tune, Wingold and Beerkircher rip across the fabric of the composition with resonations and reverb, using fuzztones and whammy bar effects to distort the throbbing output to such an extent that it resolves itself into a sort of psychedelic rococo. Singly, Tronzo appears to have more control of – and better ideas for – his guitar than the two do together.

Still, I Belong This Road I Know is nearly redeemed by “There Was A Building” the 16-minute final piece that could only have been created in the 21st century. A text-based recitative performed by tenor Theo Bleckmann plus a collection of taped sounds gathered in New York City, it describes the history and destruction of a fanciful Manhattan skyscraper. On top of actualities that include crowd and restaurant noises, Bleckmann – who often performs with drummer John Hollenbeck’s ensembles – is instructed to create a variety of narrative song voices that range from semi-classical counter-tenor to conversational Broadway wise guy. Backed by musical snippets which include descending organ chords, string crescendos, scrapes and screeches – pre-taped by Eggert – his sing-songy falsetto and hocketing delivery reflects back on the prose and links it to the so-called real music, eventually creating poetry out of the commonplace.

There’s no lack of poetry from Kinds, whose band name plays on the motto of Viennese author Heimito von Doderer, that new forms are created with old means. Take as examples Tronzo’s country blues guitar stylings, Tang’s powerful pizzicato bass runs and Loeschel’s all-encompassing pianisms, which at times reference the rhythm of Red Garland and the space and economy of Ahmad Jamal along with distinctive European influences.

Something like the bassist’s “Teezirkel”, for instance, can transform broad, almost semi-classical harmonies from the bass into a blunt continuum that melds electronic pulsations and scraped and sliding internal piano tones. This exercise in broken octave harmonies continues as speedy contrasting dynamics from Loeschel brush against chromatic guitar fills from Tronzo. On top of sawing strokes from the bassist, the plectrumist then nearly replicates the pianist’s internal node-stopping by plucking beneath the bridge and close to the tuning pegs of his instrument. As he does in many other places, and unlike the players’ methods on the other CD, his blues configurations flow generically from his performance.

Bringing individuality to his contributions, whether they be bop-style patterning or dense, extended fills, Loeschel is as perfectly partnered in Kinds as he has been in other bands. Overall more satisfying as an aural picture of a group operating at the height of its powers, then Eggert’s discontinuous session, The Very Life of Art is something to seek out. Those inured to formalism and who appreciate the bright moments among the grayness that sometimes affects the other CD may welcome I Belong This Road I Know as well.