October 21, 2016
Usually when so-called classical music is mentioned in an improvised music context, it’s to comment on the technique of a player – who is invariably a pianist. But with The Lark, Copenhagen-based keyboardist Søren Gemmer is after more complexity than mixing formalist technique with an inspired groove. Although the Aalborg-born Gemmer and his four associates may sometimes hit upon effervescent swing patterns that impulse is secondary to the creation of a unified program. His challenge which he meets intermittently is to ensure the tracks are animated and not starchy. But expecting a 32-year-old Dane to produce swing cameos in the manner of junior Errol Garner is like expecting Vladimir Putin to give his next speech dressed in a head band, love beads and a psychedelic jumpsuit expostulating universal peace and love.
That said the pianist appears most credible when he lets his ideas expand and flow alongside those of his shifting cast of characters, who include trumpeter/flugelhornist Mads La Cour, guitarist Per Møllehøj, bassist Tapani Toivanen and drummer Andreas Fryland. When Gemmer’s concepts bridle as on “The Muse” it’s left to Møllehøj’s downward sliding strings to make the musical impression, as if Gemmer is a runner inhibited enough by the Olympic track to give up his lead allowing another contender to move forward. In contrast a tune such as the satirically titled “Writer’s Bloch (for Carl Bloch)” is as clean and expansive as the celebrated painter’s line, with forthright pianism contrasting with a misty guitar section. Møllehøj, who can swing with Barney Kessel-like adroitness when needed, appears at points to be restraining himself into mere pleasantness on tunes such as “Hilma af Klint”, especially following Toivanen’s more measured bass solo.
More common are tracks such as the light and humorous “Poulenc”, with a well-paced but understated bass solo, and the successive “Improvisation II” and “Tinder”. Like a tuxedo-sporting roué taking off his coat to move more freely, they show that initial formalism can loosen into movement, with the faultless communication on the last suggesting that La Cour could be Paul Desmond to Gemmer’s Dave Brubeck. Illuminatingly as well, the virtuosic call-and-response clusters pulled from the piano in high and low registers during “Improvisation IV” demonstrate that Gemmer can whoop it up if he wishes. Mostly though, it appears that self-conscious reticence holds him back.
Taking into account the obvious thought that went into its conception, The Lark involves more esteem than excitement. The bird’s nest is feathered, but perhaps a different combination of fowl would produce a superior song.
Track Listing: 1. The Madonna & The Whore* 2. The Muse+ 3. The Lark* 4. Improvisation I $& 5. Hilma af Klint+ 6. Improvisation II*$& 7. Tinder* 8. Intermezzo $& 9. Poulenc+ 10. Improvisation III *$& 11. Journalism*& 12. Improvisation IV 13. Writer’s Bloch (for Carl Bloch) +
Personnel: Mads La Cour (flugelhorn, trumpet)*; Søren Gemmer (piano); Per Møllehøj (guitar)+; Tapani Toivanen (bass)[except &]; Andreas Fryland (drums)[except $];