The Core-Tet Project

The Core-Tet Project
Naxos 8.573804

Times change and improve even in an area as hidebound and traditional as so-called classical music. In 1980, pianist André Previn, who at that point was equally famous in the notated and the Jazz world made a couple of LPs featuring distinguished classical violinist Itzhak Perlman improvising alongside a rhythm section of guitarist Jim Hall, Bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Shelly Manne. The results in Perlman’s case were disastrous. Compared to the supple finesse of the other players, ever time it was his turn to solo he sawed away with no rhythm or swing obvious, lost without a score or familiar melodies.

That’s the strength of The Core-Tet Project. Although honored as a Dame in the so-called classical music field, Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie has proven much more versatile than other of her straight contemporaries, often seeking out uncommon musical situations. The Core-Tet Project is an instance of this since her associates are usually known as improvisers. Like Glennie’s scope that description is limiting as well. American pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, known for his long-time associations with the likes of Joe Fonda and Gebhard Ullman, has over the years also created through-composed works for non-Jazz ensembles. A close associate of his, as well as others like Dave Liebman, Danish guitarist Jon Hemmersam, is also a composer who specializes in Jazz and Free Music. The final plug in this Core is Serbian violist Szilárd Mezei, cognizant of notated music, improvisation and different folklore traditions, who, besides being a busy solo and group player, has composed music for ensembles ranging from duos to big bands.

With such adaptability part of each player’s disposition, The Core-Tet sounds nothing like a hackneyed Jazz-Classical experiment, but instead like a sympathetic, non-hierarchical working group familiar enough with each other’s skills that they could be long-time associates. Since the lingua franca here is improvised music, nearly every one of the 14 tunes depends on complete cooperation for all concerned. By the very nature of their instruments though, it often spears as if the other three are the lead soloists and narrative creators, with Glennie’s percussion collection garnishing the program with percussive elaborations. At the same time some of the improvisations list towards more defined forms. “Silver Shore”, for instance, consisting of neo-romantic European viola sweeps and the piano’s pinpointed theme extensions could be that of so-called classical music. Meanwhile “Rusty Locks”, with a Caribbean-styled steel-pan-like pulse from Glennie is nearly a Latin-Jazz piece expressed in pizzicato pops from both string players and a comprehensive syncopated ostinato from Stevens.

Other tracks, such as “Black Box Thinking”, where Glennie’s percussion doubles into full-kit expansion from kettle drum-like resonation, the better to connect with snapping guitar strings and a viola line that almost become a hoedown, could be heard as a percussionist’s showcase. Meanwhile the vibrations, undulations, trills, slides and patterning exhibited by Stevens on “Walk of Intensity”, are dazzling even as they set up a contrapuntal program with Hemmersam’s swift strums and Mezei’s jagged spiccato.

Overall though, the four have wound their mutual inspirations so tightly together that each one’s contributions – whether it be vibraharp or bell-ringing shimmies, rolling and swelling arpeggios from the guitarist, keyboard clipping or staccato fiddle sweeps – confirm a feeling that the musical architecture would be incomplete without all these attributes.

As good as it is The Core-Tet Project is merely a start. Next time instead of 14 tunes let’s hope the quartet illuminates an extended composition,

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing; 1. Steel-Ribbed Dance 2. The Calling 3.Grotesque Fantasy 4.Walk of Intensity 5. Iron Stars 6. Flutter Gaze 7. Silver Shore 8. The Wake 9. Unseen Fires 10. Crystal Splash 11. Breath of Validation 12. Black Box Thinking 13. Scissor Shower 14. Rusty Locks

Personnel: Szilárd Mezei (viola); Michael Jefry Stevens (piano); Jon Hemmersam (guitar) and Evelyn Glennie (percussion)