Katharina Weber/Barry Guy/Balts Nill

Games and Improvisations
Intakt CD 203

More than mere child’s play this significant CD expands some of Hungarian composer György Kurtág’s performance pieces to evocative chamber improvisations. Taking 11 miniatures for solo piano from his eight-volume Játékok series, which translates as “Games” in English, the trio’s intuitive skills create nine exciting tracks that refer both to Kurtág (born 1926) and the wider musical world.

The high quality shouldn’t come as a surprise. Besides a career as an improviser, Bern-based pianist Katharina Weber has won many awards for interpreting notated music by contemporary composers. Swiss percussionist Balts Nill moves easily among improvised, notated and even pop music, while British bassist Barry Guy has been exploring the relationship between instantly composed and composed music for years, most notably with his London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra.

Throughout this CD, Weber outlines the minute-or-so composed lines in appropriately intense, solemn or staccato fashion. Immediately following are group improvisations which, without losing the underlying sentiment, stretch the motifs with techniques encompassing hypnotic glissandi or methodical isolated key strokes from Weber, rim-shot pop and woody reverb from Nill and Guy’s rapid string rappelling or percussive stops.

A prime instance of this occurs with Kurtág’s Playing with Infinity that’s followed by Improvisation VI. The former is built around a descending line that radiates overtone coloration as it fades away. The latter evolves at a speedy clip as the pianist’ hunt-and-peck variations evolve into a bouncy line that almost spirals out of control until steadied by Guy’s thumps and Nill’s clanks and clatter. Finally the percussionist’s metallic rim shots and the bassist’s staccato rubs presage a finale of linked arpeggios from the keyboard. Elsewhere these contrapuntal musical salutes evolve in different ways, as flapping cymbals meet intense low-pitched piano reverb; or a tremolo build up of passing piano chords is balanced with squeaking bass lines or hard objects reverberating on drum tops.

All and all the three manage to honor an unappreciated composer’s music while simultaneously creating noteworthy sound statements on their own.

—Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 17 #10