July 21, 2016
Adegoke Steve Colson
Silver Sphinx Records SS12044
Das Reale Klavier Ein Kölner Konzert
BMC CD 219
Despite using the same instrument, pianists who set out to create a solo session are in the position of 18th Century explorers with competing routes each felt would lead to the Northwest Passage. As it turns out there was no single correct passage just as there is no particular right way to approach solo keyboard playing.
With his ideas expressed both on the standard acoustic piano and another prepared with various extensions and geegaws, German pianist Hans Lüdemann offers up a live concert experience that is designed to explore alternative techniques on the instrument. That the nine selections coalesce into a tapestry that reflects strains of notated, Jazz and improvised music is a tribute to Lüdemann’s skill in concept and interpretation.
Like a 19th Century epic saga compared to a 21st Century “new novel”. Adegoke Steve Colson’s solo effort arrives from and expresses a contrasting ethos. In the tradition of program music that takes in numerous Jazz and so-called classical works, Tones For is a two-CD mediation on and salute to ante Bellum abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglas. The discs were created both to honor the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War and the 50th anniversary of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM), of which Colson has been a member since 1967. Now New Jersey-based, Colson and his vocalist/wife Iqua Colson have worked with many AACM figures as well as other sound explorers such as drummer Andrew Cyrille and reedist David Murray. This is his first-ever solo piano record.
Like a canny decorator making sure that his furniture arrangement isn’t too monochromic to bring out a space’s most interesting aspects, Colson varies his touch, timbre and texture throughout. Besides extended techniques pioneered by the likes of Cecil Taylor and Dave Burrell – who recorded an opera on solo piano and his own Civil War memorial – the pianist mixes in references to whimsical and martial sounds, with pliable strokes supplementing belligerent expression and vice versa. Glissandi on some tracks may bunch up to suggest abstract swirls, whereas a piece like “But Yes, Sister Moses” manages to mate a multi-level Blues base with echoes of spirituals such as “Go Down Moses” as well as cross headed contrasting tones challenging one another. Some tracks may be literally reflective, like “We Saw the Lightning” which hops along, echoing the sizzle and strikes of a rainstorm, whereas curiously enough, “Lingering”, a pastoral interlude describing slaves who passively spent their lives on the plantation, come across as a southern cousin to “Autumn in New York”.
With other tunes ranging from those studded with harder arpeggios to those with descriptive passing tones or generalized anthem-like developments, Colson is at his best when he has enough space to develop themes that are properly reflective. “I Didn't Know”, for instance, which itemizes how Tubman explained information that had been kept from slaves, moves from expansive thumping to a gradual feeling of warmth and acceptance. Whereas “When the Gold Was for Dusting Our Eyebrows” amalgamates a series of styles to illustrate the glorious African history Tubman related to those in American bondage, its concluding flashy expressiveness replicates the hopefulness suddenly given to these folks. Hope via a cuckoo clock even echoes through the kinetic cadenzas that make up “Homage”, which pointedly celebrates all those through the years who have stood up for justice.
Advancing an unrelated agenda is Köln-based pianist Lüdemann, who has in the past recorded with varied bass-and-drum colleagues as well as in larger ensembles. Putting aside the historicism associated with Tones For, Das Reale Klavier Ein Kölner Konzert is concerned with pure music and sound as well as the mechanical limits of the keyboard(s). Like a visual artist who concentrates on abstractism precisely because he has mastered the depth and color field associated with figurative painting, the pianist’s dexterity means that non-straight-ahead, swing and storytelling are never abandoned.
Alive with peaceful passages and sequences which are studded with sharpened textures as if they’re multi-sectional pikes, the program varies from track to track. “Spring Rites”, for instance is a high-frequency, hearty line that keeps fanning out into wider and wider kinetic arcs. As Lüdemann speedily moves from upper register to mid and finally low registers, not only is the emphasis shifted without strain, but the way notes are caressed as well as assailed, is as reminiscent as Hank Jones scrutinizing a ballad as all-out Cecil Taylor-like texture disintegration.
In the same vein, as per classic mainstream Jazz, articulated heads will often be recapped in tracks’ penultimate sections. For example a piece with the giveaway title “Love Confessions” ends up reflecting vibrating relaxation despite the multi notes and timbres initially introduced to torque the theme. Equivalently “Heartbeats” with its crystal-clear note reflection and swirling passing chords could fit into the program of any conventional Jazz pianist, until the double time and sharpened motifs kick in to define the tune’s final section.
Like the Olympic athlete equally skilled at shot putting and sprinting, Lüdemann calls on disparate techniques plus piano and virtual piano to storm his way through “Rollende Steine”. “Rolling Stone” in English, the track could be the soundtrack for a Teutonic honky tonk, with the usually hushed audience at the concert which produced the CD, applauding and shouting encouragement. This isn’t an R&B replica however. Despite low frequency, downward digs in the keyboard and rhythm reiterations, the clipped timbres are more formalized than fanciful, with head concepts added to the hedonism
Probably the most interesting demonstration of the virtual piano preparations occurs on “Blaue Kreise” or “Blue Circles”. Evidentially switching from the standard to the prepared instrument and back again, Lüdemann creates a unique sequence of unexpected sour notes that are as bent and echoing as his playing elsewhere is straightforward. Cleverly adding a modal overlay, sometimes the tones ring with a sound that could come from tuned plastic bottles, the result is equally simplistic and sumptuous. Double note sequences suggest that the pianist is dabbling in contemporary European notated textures as well as producing his version of America stride piano.
Miniature orchestras on their own, the piano’s broadened palate can be used expressively in many manners. Colson and Lüdemann have come up with two high-quality variants.
Track Listing: Das: 1. Präludium 1 2. Blaue Kreise 3. Heartbeats 4. Präludium 2 5. Spring Rites 6. Ankunft 7. Love Confessions 8. Rollende Steine 9. Arabesque
Personnel: Das: Hans Lüdemann (piano and virtual piano)
Track Listing: Tones: Volume One: The Spark 2. The Message 3. Inner Quiet 4.The Burden 5. I Freed a Thousand 6. We Saw the Lightning 7. A Thousand More, If Only They Knew 8. Truth Sojourned, The North Star Spoke 9. I Didn't Know 10. Lingering 11. Hard Leavin' Volume Two: 1. But Yes, Sister Moses 2. When the Gold Was for Dusting Our Eyebrows 3. Friendship 4. Homage 5. The Torch Still Burns
Personnel: Tones: Adegoke Steve Colson (piano)