Magda Mayas/Tony Buck

Gold
Creative Sources CS 153 CD

Piotr Zabrodzki/Arthur Lawrenz

Trylobit

MultiKulti Project MPI 001

Superficially, the most obvious difference between Warsaw-based pianist Piotr Zabrodzki and Berlin pianist Magda Mayas is that he confines his improvisations to the piano keys, while she’s comfortable exploring the instrument’s innards.

In fact what’s revealed in these duo sessions – Zabrodzki’s playing partner is Polish drummer Arthur Lawrenz and Mayas’ is Australian drummer Tony Buck – is an antithetical view of the pianist’s role. Firmly in the contemporary jazz mode, Zabrodzki’s high-energy performance places him in the lineage of showy keyboard-pounders that encompasses Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner and Gonzalo Rubalcaba and goes back at least as far as Art Tatum. His presence is always felt and he always appears to be front-and-centre.

A student of Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg and German pianist George Gräwe, Mayas flirts with microtonalism and minimalism, but is mainly concerned with what sounds can be stressed, pressed, strummed, drummed and twanged from the piano’s internal workings. At points she almost disappears within the instrument’s mechanism itself.

Someone who also plays the electric piano, double bass, bass guitar, organ and noise generator, Zabrodzki’s other projects run the gamut from grind core to chamber music. But even seconded by jazz drummer Lawrenz on the six selections here, the emphasis is on fortissimo and staccatissimo runs, with the output resolutely tonal no matter how frantic it appears.

Locked hands, and cross-pulsing with high frequency clips, recurrent glissandi, arpeggio runs and a tendency to work his way up to cascading cadenzas and fantasias characterize this program. Clicking and clattering ride cymbals plus blunt and echoing strokes are the ways the drummer keeps up with the piano man and comments on the proceedings. Throughout this unleashing of note torrents, there are points at which Zabrodzki is kinetically and metaphorically chasing his own tail – or tales. A knock-out as piano playing, a surfeit of undigested content and technique hampers appreciation.

In contrast, reverberations and rebounds into the soundboard, capotes and escapement are Mayas’ stock-in-trade, as she abrasively vibrating the strings’ speaking length so that additional partials and other tinctures are revealed. Meantime Buck fingernail scrapes along the taunt drum head skins, whacks woodblocks, ratamacues and drags other parts of his kit and worries cymbals to help build the irregular tonality into polyrhythms.

While both timbre-foraging undertakings here expose the same sort of sonic fragments and abrasive echoing partials, “Golden” is preferable because the interaction is more compact and thus more intense. At one point here the pianist launches a single reverberating key thump abutting the soundboard and expands it with foot pedal power while continuous zither-like frails from the strings echo chromatically and sympathetically. Before she moves to hunt, pecks and concluding glissandi, Buck’s mallet pops and stick twisting resonate as much in the air as on his drums. Smacked cymbals and sharp string slashes signal the conclusion.

Wide-ranging rubs and smacks plus ghostly cymbal asides are delineated in greater detail on “Mercury Machine”, as are complementary stop points radiating from the sounded string partials. Some of the isolated chords are further strained when Mayas tool dampens the steel wire. Meanwhile Buck’s percussiveness advances the longer, chromatic improvisation with big top-like drum rolls and woody rebounds.

Like Oscar Peterson, Zabrodzki proves that he’s someone who can dazzle with his technique and technical command of the keyboard. Moderating his execution plus re-thinking his judgment will hopefully change his performances in the future. For her part, Mayas inner-piano risks and atonality, which Zabrodzki eschews, make her CD more striking. But she too can change. In the future perhaps, she could raise her head up higher than the string set and add more tone colors to her improvising than the monochromatic Gold.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Trylobit: 1. Otoczak 2. Banda Skorupiaków 3. Ordowik 4. Nil Admirandum 5. AX 900-C 6. Tadek Niejadek kontra Jurek Ogórek

Personnel: Trylobit: Piotr Zabrodzki (piano) and Artur Lawrenz (drums)

Track Listing: Gold: 1. Mercury Machine 2. Golden

Personnel: Gold: Magda Mayas (piano) and Tony Buck (percussion)