FRED VAN HOVE/WOLFGANG FUCHS

Live@Total Music Meeting 2004- Facetten
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By Ken Waxman

A duo appetizer and a duo desert frame the full-course meal that is displayed in a solo piano tour-de-force, as this souvenir of 2004’s Total Music Meeting serves up a meal of memorable Flemish-German nourishment.

Long time chefs in the EuroImprov tradition, Berlin’s Wolfgang Fuchs and Antwerp’s Fred Van Hove have cooked together with or without various sous chefs over the past couple of decades. Due to bass clarinetist Fuchs’s less-than-perfect health, however, their interaction on this CD was limited to a less-than-12-minute duet on “Chess!”, where the Belgian plays single-manual harpsichord; and the too short – fewer-than-six minutes –and aptly titled “Desert”. On the last Fuchs’s alley-cat slinky bass clarinet squeals are matched with Van Hove’s bellow-vibrating accordion. But the overall effect is more like a mid-course amuse gueule than some hearty end-of-meal sweet.

The real meat-and-potatoes of the session comes with Van Hove’s expansive, nearly 49-minute, piano solo, “Berliner Roll”, with the second word of the title named for the movement, not the baked product.

Downplaying the culinary imagery for a moment the improvisational interaction on “Chess!” resembles that of two experienced game masters. On top of string plucking harpsichord continuum, the clipped notes and tongue slaps from the bass clarinet gradually vibrate with more bird-like intensity to mesh with Van Hove’s feathery voicing. Expelling a woody tone at the half-way mark, the reedist’s slurry flattement and tongue stops ricochet and arch as the keyboardist spools out arpeggios after arpeggio, finally voicing his key pressure so that his sounds intensify along with sliding horn notes.

“Berliner Roll” is a different matter. Over the course of the performance, Van Hove becomes a painter not a chef, overlaying and blending translucent layers of color to create perceptions of depth, volume and form. Expanding from organic pitter pattering and single-note key slides, his tremolo voicing and irregularly displayed dynamics bring out not only the primary tints of the note clusters but also of the fundamental serial partials that result from this repetitive layering and patterning. Taking advantage of the Bösendorfer’s additional keys, the pianist expands the volume and pressure of his dynamics. At points he skips from expanded low tones to feathery high notes. Staccatissimo, he extends contrasting dynamics, mixing the portentous dramatics of Taylor (Cecil) and Rachmaniov (Sergey), so that the raging currents of glissandi and layered cross tones appear as an irrevocable force, with almost visual textures pouring from the keys like molten lava from a volcano.

As the spherical layering and intermingling continues, more harmonies are introduces to the already overstuffed relationship, with cascading chords and partials filling all the spaces. Eventually he builds from crescendos of passing tones to a fantasia of organic and almost orgasmic passion. With wide, fortissimo and prestissimo portamento and glissandi, he stacks chord clusters on top of chord clusters and layers cadences on top of cadences to such an extent that the solo begins to take on the properties of never-ending motion. Then just when you think he has reaches a climax he redoubles his key pumping so that the veloce intensity turns to agitated polyrhythms during the final three minutes. Approaching supersonic rhythms, he appears to be scraping the strings themselves as well as the keys – but without entering the piano’s innards. In conclusion, his timbres reverberate through the wood of the soundboard along with the keys and strings.

A satisfying meal of artfully steamed ivory, wood and metal, Van Hove’s Michelin Guide star-worthy creation adds value to the duets that surround it.

Track Listing: 1. Chess! 2. Berliner Roll 3. Desert

Personnel: Wolfgang Fuchs (bass clarinet); Fred Van Hove (harpsichord, accordion or piano)