Philip Thomas

Bruce’s Fingers BF 66

By Ken Waxman

Stripping away labels, the program on this imaginative CD by British pianist Philip Thomas links notated works by contemporary composers John Cage and Michael Finnissy, with through-composed pieces commissioned from a quartet of British improvisers: pianist Chris Burn, reedist Mick Beck, bassist Simon H. Fell and laptoppist Paul Obermayer. Thomas’ virtuoso performance here confirms that in execution there are actually more similarities than differences between instantly created and written scores.

Case in point is Finnissy’s “Jazz”, whose subterranean rumbles are actually jazz-like only in energy and tenacity. In contrast, Burns’ four-part “pressings and screenings” demands that Thomas play hide-and-seek with glissandi and resonation, kinetically sweeping from taut, low-pitched percussiveness to repeated tinkles in the highest registers. Other compositions investigate reductionism implicit in note clusters or reflect the sonic possibilities of ping-pong balls and other orbs ricocheting against plucked and stopped internal strings.

Gently mocking the classical/jazz or improv/notated dichotomy is Fell’s “Composition no. 73: Thirteen New Inventions”. Mutating extended piano techniques with implicit references to Bach’s keyboard inventions, the piece asks the pianist to improvise responses to Fell’s sometimes neo-classical meditations. While some inventions may sound like direct Bach transcriptions – albeit delayed or sped up – others superimpose several techniques on top of one another, with Thomas displaying his mettle and adaptability by smacking and shattering phrases fortissimo, agitato and staccatissimo.

Compositions adds a series of original compositions to the notated canon.

In MusicWorks Issue #100