Kaja Draksler/Onno Govaert’s Feecho

El Negocito Records NRO 32

Stefan Pasborg/Carsten Dahl

Live at SMK

ILK 229 CD

While the concept may go back to the days of Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines, the most expressive validation of piano-drums duos had to wait for the stirrings of Free Jazz. That’s when the likes of Irène Schweizer and Cecil Taylor matched wits with such selected drum masters as Han Bnnnink and Baby Sommer as if they were both part of a championship chess game. Slovenian-born, Amsterdam-based pianist Kaja Draksler and Dutch drummer Onno Govaert as Feecho, and Danes, drummer Stefan Pasborg and pianist Carsten Dahl take up the challenge on these live sessions which confirm that playing the same instrument(s) doesn’t mean that the results sound anyway comparable.

Although Hums’ three selections and Live at SMK’s eight tracks are, save one, original compositions or pure improvisations, the duos arrive from divergent areas of the music. Pasborg, who has worked with stylists such as trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, and Dahl are from the swing-FreeBop continuum. Draksler and Govaert, who is also part of the Cactus Truck band, are committed to freer, more aleatory sound variations.

Draksler’s strategy depends on knitting high frequency dynamics and continuously duplicated single notes. While there are faint echoes of Taylor’s kinetics on a tune like “Goshi”, but like a New World explorer unwilling to reply on an older map, her cascades are not as percussive and her key clips defter. Twinkling sparkles are added to emphasized notes and phrases. Meanwhile Govaert’s rumbling press rolls and sideways vibrations are forceful enough for rhythmic momentum, but eschew industrial strength crashing and other bravado.

“Bums”, the final tune, works through this interface in a protracted fashion. Dipping into the piano’s innards for string plucks that simulate subterrestial textures, Draksler also aggressively stokes cadenzas with such ferocity that were they a bundle of firewood they would speedily burst into flames. Govaert’s pacing is lighter here. But the crux comes when in a display of POMO individuality the pianist suddenly essays a melody that is as vivid and romantic as anything from the Impressionists. As she works on shaping and re-sizing it chromatically, the drummer’s responds in classic-tortoise-and-hare fashion. Slamming cymbals, rubbing drum tops and ricocheting maracas-like and twangs from his kit, she leisurely follows up with what could be the sound of a chain snaking among the piano’s inner strings. A brief recapping of the original theme signifies the end.

If detours into romanticism are unforeseen developments for the Amsterdam-based duo, then the Danes appear to have soaked many of their compositions in gentler perceptions so that the tender residue is always present. Besides encoring with the song-book classic “Blame It on my Youth,” which appears to be waiting for a vocal chorus, the Copenhagen two inject mainstream affiliations even in their most stringent improvisations, entitled “Part1” etc. There is also more of an orientation towards the classic Jazz piano trio form but like an amputee missing one limb who functions so well that it’s not noticeable, Pasborg and Dahl are so skillful that a double bassist’s presence is never missed. Furthermore, Dahl’s output ranges from the peppy to the prolix, with suggestions of Oscar Peterson-like swing, McCoy Tyner-like modality and Keith Jarrett-like charm present, as well as leftward turns towards Taylor-like percussiveness.

Beginning with moderated keyboard cascades facing off against diminished drum rolls and clumps, by the time the Dahl-composed “Nariman's Mood” arrives, the composer treats it with a near-19th century Russian sensibility with a touch that sounds more suitable for a clavichord than the modern pianoforte. Pasborg’s strokes help lighten the mood, somehow directing it more towards Jazz.

Oddly enough the sprint between rugged and romantic timbres affects the other instant compositions – “Part2”, “Part3”, “Part4”. With unaccompanied passages alternating with duo work, fortissimo semi-classical references from Dahl evolve into quieter motifs, with his balanced strums backed by a firework-like display of affiliated percussion tropes from wood-cracking pumps to almost silent rumbles. “Part4” manages to mute the overt romanticism so that serenity hardens and toughens, as if the piece was an elastic band transformed into a winter snow tire.

“Sing Sing Loud” is the most expressively outside track. It’s a pleasing hide-and-seek romp where a jolly, child-like melody is speckled with Dahl digging echoing tones from deep within the piano and Pasborg appearing to be rolling marbles on drum tops. Yet the CD’s – and the performance’s – real finale is Dahl’s “Psyko Calypso”. It’s a sliding romp with melodic hops filled out with hi-hat splashes and almost steel-drum-like pummels from the drummer and episodes of unselfconscious swing from Dahl.

Like those who prefer fish and others meat, both sessions here are nourishing. But some may express a preference to near-atonal explorations; other for romantically inclined swing.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Bums: 1. Goshi Goshi 2. Nya 3. Bums

Personnel: Bums: Kaja Draksler (piano) and Onno Govaert (drums)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Part 1 2. Nariman's Mood 3. Part 2 4. Part 3 5. Sing Sing Loud 6. Part 4 7. Psyko Calypso 8. Blame It on my Youth

Personnel: Live: Carsten Dahl (piano) and Stefan Pasborg (drums and percussion)