AoA Improv Group

May 16, 2023

Live at Pariser Platz
Evil Rabbit ERR 35

Bohemian Drips BD 016

Distinctive improvised sounds from Berlin that by happenstance both feature Greek-Austrian French hornist Elena Kakaliagou, could be said to represent inside and outside music. Not that the inventive textures on both brief CDs are that diverse. It’s just that Omokentro was recorded within the Prenzlauer Berg water reservoir, while Live at Pariser Platz was recorded inside the Akademie der Künste.

Another chapter in Kakaliagou’s ongoing Nablóse duo with Viennese Ingrid Schmoliner’s prepared piano, the hornist, who has also been part of Zeitkratzer and the pianist, who has worked with the likes of Pascal Niggenkemper, take full advance of the spatial properties of the reservoir, allowing its echoes and vibrations to extend not only instrumental textures but also their voices. Kakaliagou doesn’t vocalize with the AoA Improv Group. Instead that role is taken by inventive German singer Almut Kühne, who has worked with Gebhard Ullmann and others on both sides of notated/improv line. Besides the hornist, her associates are Greek saxophonist/clarinetist Floros Floridis, Italian bassist Antonio Borghini and Norwegian drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen, all of whom live in the German capital.

On Omokentro the splashes and drones from the reservoir amplify, alter and sometimes mutate the duo’s output. They include portamento brass slides, blustery plunger echoes and rugged metallic scoops from Kakaliagou, plus percussive keyboard pressure, single key clips, gong-like resonations and clattering of implements vibrating on the piano’s inner strings from Schmoliner. Sometimes in unison with their instrumental output, the two also vocalize with textures hanging distantly in the air or bouncing back from the walls of the structure. Ranging from lyrical intoning, spooky invocations of ghostly tones and near-replications of medieval plainsong, the experimental is most prominent than the ecclesiastical. Eventually the propelled and reverberated broken octave respirations and augmentation reach a crescendo with the concluding “Amygdalaski”, given a Slavic variant for the emotional part of the humans brain. The pseudo-Gregorian chanting moves from almost toneless to near polyphonic with what could be words wrapped in lyrical expression. Making further use of the spatial overtones, tremolo echoes are mixed in with string twanging and dissonant horn slurs for a climax that moves to a linear conclusion as vibrations continue to hang in the air.

While variable in tone and delivery Live at Pariser Platz, Kühne’s vocal equipment allows her to move from choked squeals to emphasized screeches and rugged growls, with approximations of scat singing and Bedlam-like mumbling included. At the same time her ululations and syllable stretching are harmonized with Floridis’ vibration collection and accompanied by near-vocalized triplets and warm shading from the French horn; Borghini’s steadying string pulse and Narvesen’s intermittent pops and drags. On saxophone, Floridis can curve his output into rooster-like crowing, honks and tongue slaps and on bass clarinet leap from mellow flutter tonguing to clarion responses, with a touch of circular breathing. Speeding up to presto, key percussion and wet gurgles intersect with vocal squeaks or basement moans, with the roughened connection underlined by sul tasto bass string vibrations. When the quintet reaches a resolution as Kühne’s voice approximates the rhythmic freedom of Jazz, the reedist’s peeps and squirming vibrations ensure that any listing toward an expected conclusion is avoided.

Exciting, exploratory and energetic these sets show how much can be done melding voice and instrument output while still avoiding the expected or commonplace.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Omokentro:1. Tauchen 2. Kern 3. Walking 4. Wolf Path 5. Amygdalaski

Personnel: Omokentro: Elena Kakaliagou (French horn and vocals) and Ingrid Schmoliner (prepared piano and voice)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Live at PP, part I 2. Live at PP, part II 3. Live at PP, part III 4. Live at PP, part IV

Personnel: Live: Elena Kakaliagou (French horn); Floros Floridis (soprano saxophone and bass clarinet); Antonio Borghini (bass); Dag Magnus Narvesen (drums) and Almut Kühne (voice)