Joëlle Léandre/Elisabeth Harnik

Tender Music

Elisabeth Harnik

Ways of My Hand

Klopotec IZK CD 076

From her base in Graz, pianist Elisabeth Harnik has spent the past few years enhancing her career as an improviser playing with sophisticated fellow Austrians as well as visitors, including Ken Vandermark and Alison Blunt. These recent CDs capture some of her most challenging work: Ways of My Hand is a mature demonstration of in-the-moment solo playing, while Tender Music exposes Harnik to the not-so-tender-mercies of French bassist Joëlle Léandre who has been furrowing the improvisational fields for years.

On her own Harnik doesn’t shy away from listing her influences, dedicating a track each to singer Jeanne Lee and composer Conlon Nancarrow, and a four-part suite to composer/reedist Anthony Braxton. “As The Crow Flies North”, her Lee dedication, is an exercise in sustained languidness, extracting appropriate emotion from nearly-not-there string buzzing and juddering string preparations, concluding with suggestive soundboard echoes. Using an acoustic, unprepared instrument on “Every Time He Punched a Hole”, the Nancarrow tribute, Harnik approximates the cascading note billows he drew from a player piano, with key clusters encompassing thickened low pitches and clanking high ones, which crisscross one another. While suggesting a limitless flow of key note textures she also ends abruptly as if the perforated roll had run out.

Befitting the honoree, “Flow and Construction” for Braxton, is more complex. Squirming and scampering the deepening sections evolve into crunches and complex high-frequency glissandi that are both recital ready and reflective. When tremolo chording divides into sharpened single notes, the case for appreciating the strummed piano-harp qualities of the instrument are made and completed with sharpened echoes. Displaying (Morton) Feldman-like chamber music resonations and multiple rhythms splashes, narrow textures band and are swept away with conclusive inevitability.

As Léandre is constantly animated, there’s little stolid or narrow about the six improvisations which the pianist shares with the double bassist. Initially a bit hesitant as the bassist jumps, slides and stomps narrowed and staccato timbres – as well as vocalizing nonsense syllables – Harnik’s initial chamber-recital style accompaniment becomes more tilted, with key stop, making a connection with pinched inner strings and sul ponticello rubs on “Ear Area III”, finally rearranging into kinetic patterns.

Although the extended conclusion the mates erhu-like piano-harp strums and bee-buzzing-like bow caprices into a florid and flow that’s both echoing and emotional, the climatic interface occurs with “Ear Area IV” and “Ear Area V”. Contrapuntal high-pitched piano glissandi and pounding, plus low-pitched string rubs scrubs from Léandre work their way into a shuffling romantic ending on the first. Subsequently, the sly melodic momentum is toughened with staccato scratches from the piano innards plus double bass thumping stops. The call-and-response formula confirms the duo’s intricate skill, ending with a conspicuous sweep of sparkling timbres.

Succinctly the discs confirm Harnik’s talents in a solo setting and her ability to hold her own with one of the music’s most masterful improvisers.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Tender: 1. Ear Area I 2. Ear Area II 3. Ear Area III 4. Ear Area IV 5. Ear Area V 6. Ear Area VI

Personnel: Tender: Elisabeth Harnik (piano) and Joëlle Léandre (bass)

Track Listing: Ways: 1. Every Time He Punched a Hole [To Conlon Nancarrow] 2. Ragged 3. From Jaw to Ear 4. As The Crow Flies North [To Jeanne Lee] 5. Flow and Construction [To Anthony Braxton] – 1st Part 6. Flow and Construction [To Anthony Braxton] – 2nd Part 7. Flow and Construction [To Anthony Braxton] – 3rd Part 8. Flow and Construction [To Anthony Braxton]

Personnel: Ways: Elisabeth Harnik (piano)