Ramon Lopez / Christine Wodrascka

August 11, 2011


Leo Records CD LR 542

Fully conversant with free improvisation involving a single pianist and a single drummer perfected by the likes of Ulrich Gumpert and Baby Sommer; Borah Bergman and Hamid Drake; plus Cecil Taylor and just about everyone; Christine Wodrascka and Ramon Lopez advance a personalized game plan.

These dozen tracks by the French pianist and the Spanish, Paris-based percussionist are completely aleatory and auto-responsive. Limiting themselves to the perimeters of the Alfortville-Paris recording studio, any intonation heard apparently has no affiliated history. Instead each sound is positioned and animated as foundation of, or reaction to, another created by the other improvising partner.

Obviously the danger implicit in constructing bordered improvisations is sequences that are overly sterile and coldly isolated. Luckily both players possess enough assurance and technique to give the often abrasive, frequently staccato duos a certain geniality. Self-taught, Alicante native Lopez’s history encompasses l’Orchestre National de Jazz and formations ranging from those with pianist Agustí Fernández to ones with reedist Charles Gayle. Classically trained, Toulouse-based Wodrascka has worked in large ensembles as well as in smaller groups with percussionist Lê Quan Ninh and bassist Joëlle Léandre. A few instances of this duo’s strategy demonstrates that tones, rhythms, harmonies and pitches don’t have to be set to a predetermined set of rules, especially with two instruments that have volumes of effects at each player’s disposal.

“Delante del fuego” for instance, deals with rhythmical dislocation. With the pianist’s low-frequency key pumping and chord strums reflected by snare smacks and gong reverberation, a gradual move from andante to presto on Wodrascka’s part brings out further dissimilarities. She adds pedal pressure to her note clusters as Lopez counters with dynamic runs and rebounds. Contrast that track with “Con la lluvia”, which is formalized and faux-baroque. Smacked small bells and beaten snares are met with treble-pitched feints and key clips, as cross timbres appear from both the pianist’s hands. Before a climax of repeated string vibrations, Lopez confirms the counterpoint with drum top scuffs and what could be knitting-needle clicks.

Elsewhere, tracks such as “Pelea” and “Ensemble la Joie” confirm that Wodrascka, who is just as capable of lyrical expression, can with the same aplomb slap the piano keys as well as pull, stroke and saw on its internal strings with knife-like thrusts. Lopez’s response to those methodical attacks is to rattle his cymbals, create steel-drum-like echoes with his mallets, and use friction to stretch the drum tops enough to outline new tones. Between the percussionist rotating bell trees and pulsing gong-like kinetics, and the pianist spanking keys for wide-ranging tremolo runs, the two create a polyphonic interface that has rondo-like elements as well as stretches of individual expression.

Abstraction and experimentation can be as fully flavored as conventional harmonies in the right hands. And four of them – plus a quartet of feet – are memorably in use to create these Momentos.

-Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Au debut to chemin 2. Ikkyu 3. Es Verdad 4. Les Enfants 5. Delante del fuego 6. Ensemble la Joie 7. Recuerdos de la luna 8. Entournés d’abeilles 9. Con la lluvia 10. Là-bas 11. Pelea 12. Resistiendo

Personnel: Christine Wodrascka (piano) and Ramon Lopez (drums and percussion)