Jacques Demierre/The Thirty Piano Orchestra

The Thirty and One Pianos Flexion flex 008

One standard bromide is that because of its complex design, the sound of a piano can replicate an orchestra itself. So what then are the sounds of an orchestra consisting of 30 pianos? This notable CD suggests one answer: dense and atonal. Geneva-based pianist Jacques Demierre, best-known in improvising music circles as a member of a long-running trio with Barre Phillips and Urs Leimgruber is also a composer of notated music. So besides “Free Flight” a solo piano feature for Demierre, this session includes the three-part “Thirty Pianos”, composed and conducted by the pianist and interpreted by a small regiment of keyboardists.

That’s where things become confusing. For a start only 29 names are tabulated on the sleeve; which further states that “some who are not on the list did play/some who are on the list did not play.” In context, this Zen Koan-like riddle can be understood since the tracks are so chock-full of criss-cross clavichord-like plucks, Henry Cowell-like tone-cluster keyboard poundings and atonal excursions onto the woody infrastructure, that it’s not surprising that a few keyboardists may have been lost in the ensuing melee. Imagine Cecil Taylor, Borah Bergman, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis sounding as many notes as possible in no particular order and an aural picture of the situation is suggested. Or consider what would result if hailstones rained down onto a platoon of pianos with their lids raised and you’ll get an idea of the commotion here. In truth, by the third variation any harp-like glissandi or gentling plinks are put aside for reverberating cascades more percussive than any drum set, yet still with swinging buoyancy.

Playing solo Demierre’s technique easily defines the oxymoron ugly beauty. Rumbling lower pitches and scratching the keys like a tick-infested dog, he interpolates tremolo variations that highlight every tonal extension. Reaching climatic stasis at mid-point, octave leaps and structures that sound near-electrified are gradually reintroduced as if he was costuming an unadorned manikin. By the finale vigorous tone consolidation reasserts the keyboard’s primacy. Versatile in at least two branches of music, Demierre is a rare creative stylist.

—Ken Waxman

Tracks: 1. Thirty Pianos Part I 2. Thirty Pianos Part II 3. Thirty Pianos Part III 4. Free Fight*

Personnel: Jacques Demierre: (piano*) and 29 other pianists