Sten Sandell & Paal Nilssen-Love

Jacana
Rune Grammofon RCD 2159 CD

Zlatko Kaučič/Augustí Fernández

Sonic Party

NotTwo MW 912-2

Recorded live slightly more than a week apart at different European festivals, two accomplished piano-drums duos demonstrate the width and breadth of concentrated improvisations on these discs.

All the players are peripatetic veterans, who have worked with other masters of the genre(s) like saxophonists Peter Brötzmann and Evan Parker; and each set of players brings am individual sensibility to the interface. Perhaps by happenstance the two Southern Europeans – Spanish pianist Augustí Fernández and Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaučič Zlatko Kaucic appear more committed to the Jazz tradition, while the two Northern Europeans – Swedish pianist Sten Sandell and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love – operate more within the realm of Free Music. Each approach is equally suitable and significant

Partners in other affiliations, Nilssen-Love and Sandell consecrate this CD’s extended tracks to expressions of power and passion. Almost two decades older than the drummer, and closer to the first flowering of Energy Music, the pianist invests his solos with keyboard stabs, internal strums, overwhelming glissandi, plus overall dynamics, rife with restrained violence and up-front patterning. At the same time his all-encompassing pianism doesn’t interfere with his chromatic sense. Each one of the performances moves confidentially forward. As for the drummer, his bumps, wiggles and cymbal splashes illuminate and accompany the piano part. Sophisticated in his voicing, he allows barely-there clanks to take centre stage with the same facility which he brings to inflating splattered rhythm enlargement. Preparations, including distinctive bell-pealing come from both players. Plus Sandell creates innovative tones by yodeling and growling within the piano innards as well as occasionally vocalizing out loud.

“Kauri” is the defining performance here. High frequency and often bellicose in his touch, Sandell at points appears to be physically digging into the instrument’s innards. At the same time it seems as if he’s fishing individual notes from among his tone clusters. A climax is reached when menacing chords reverberate in tandem with the pianist murmuring into the piano’s inner architecture. Reverting to a tremolo line with echoes of both waltz and boogie-woogie, Sandall gives way to a trenchant solo from Nilssen-Love where the cymbals and toms sound as if they’re being rolled on the ground. Descending drum rustles and clattering key cadenzas complete the piece with boppish efficiency.

Bop isn’t part of the equation on Sonic Party’s seven improvisations. As animated, but less frenetic and percussive in their playing as Sandell and Nilssen-Love, only a year apart in age and over 60, Kaučič and Fernández share a distinctive sophistication in their textural elaborations.

Instructively though, the Spaniard and Slovenian put a finer point on their explorations, polishing textures so that they occasionally take on a recital-ready sheen. Formalist enough to set up a pattern, expose it, and then extends it with variations, that decorum doesn’t stop the two from playing further out as well. Even during the first couple of tracks there are portions within which the pianist’s staccato, contrasting dynamics move into experimental Cecil Taylor-like territory, and the drummer’s curt yet complementary rolls, jump and bounce as they approximate Sunny Murray territory.

During passages left open for individual expression plus vamping interface, neither man confines himself to standard archetypes either. Fernández especially prepares his instrument with a variety of lures and manipulators. On “Lonci” for instance, his string slides, stabs and plucks resonate as far as the piano’s backboard, while the mini cymbals and metal bowls apparently tossed on the string-set create electro-acoustic-styled oscillations providing the action with unique tension and finally release. As carefully as the drummer whacks his kit, Fernández uses hard keyboard slaps as punctuation and scene changers.

From his part of the stage, Kaučič’s crucial strategy is to stimulate not pulverize. It’s almost as if he’s using a fish hook attached to his sticks to gingerly draw out the proper drum textures. Plus his cymbal resonations often appear delicate enough to vibrate a tea cup. On the other hand, when the pianist responds to this exposition with vivid tremolos, as on “Free Nest”, the drummer reverts to background accompaniment to preserve the flow of the improvisation.

By the aptly names final track, “The Hug” both men have succinctly proven that together and alone their playing can be confrontational and calming depending on the situation. Hurried but not hell-bent; dissonant but not atonal; this dual facility means that the conclusive sentiment taken away from this meeting is that of close-knit cooperation.

That both duos can express this without neglecting continuous evolution in their musical meetings is a tribute to all four participants.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Jacana: 1. Curvature 2. Kauri 3. Jacana

Personnel: Jacana: Sten Sandell (piano and voice) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: Sonic: 1. Us and Other's 2. Sonic Party 3. Lonci 4. Sirob 5. Free Nest 6. Monde 7. The Hug

Personnel: Sonic: Augustí Fernández (piano and prepared piano) and Zlatko Kaučič (ground drums)