Back With A Vengeance: A Poker From FMP

After a lengthy silence, four FMP titles – courtesy of label honcho Jost Gebers – were recently received by yours truly. I can’t forget that one of my first massive orders of improvisation-based LPs was placed with this historic German imprint, a long time ago. There were no credit cards in this writer’s shabby pocket – he had to send a bank draft. How old (and poor) we have “grown up” to be.

I’m not unbiased when Cecil Taylor is implicated. He’s an absolute hero and a big influence on my own guitar (!) protocols. But the imperative at this juncture is trying to somehow illustrate what he conjured up – together with William Parker and Masashi Harada – in CT: The Dance Project, a set recorded in 1990 at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin during the Summer Music concert series. As pointless as underlining the merits and the careers of the involved parties might appear, the exceptional meshing of technical adroitness and physical boldness that this performance offers is something to literally contemplate and remain astonished at. Following a classic Taylor approach – utterances and exclamations preceding the contact with the instruments – the trio launches a succession of purposeful explorations of dynamics, immediately acclimatizing to the live environment (which of course featured a dance act on the stage) and eliciting a chain of reciprocal visceral responses from the musicians, who move across the borders of a murderous elegance to arrive at the perfect synthesis of bodily expression and meaningful eloquence. Intellectualism is thoroughly annihilated, Taylor’s fragmented fluency shifting the centre of attention between persistence and venomous ardour, Parker confident and perspicacious at once, Harada only apparently in the background yet ready to let his influence be felt without any need of sounding thunderous.

Talking about greats, Alexander Von Schlippenbach’s Piano Solo ’77 was taped in a basement set up as a studio by Gebers himself, a windowless cellar where the pianist got the chance to “really focus, pushing my playing forward and taking myself right to the edge”, referring to his improvisational capabilities. Now, if there’s a recording where Von Schlippenbach can be heard unashamedly punching holes through the keyboard, this must be it. The pianism is often on the verge of utter fury but maintains an inexhaustible lucidity that snatches the music from the jaws of pandemonium, absurdly discordant patterns and detrimental-to-normality contrapuntal shapes intersecting and self-reproducing in a continuous (ir)rationalization of artistic doggedness. The commitment, the magnetism, the total involvement emerging from this set is directly proportional to the listener’s will to accept the concept of being beleaguered by a pouring energy, the active principle of a style whose evolution has brought several stellar albums over three subsequent decades, just like the recent Friulian Sketches on Psi. Still, the raw eminence of this aggressive soliloquy would be hard to duplicate by today’s pretenders banging away at our exasperation.

With all the due respect – because the guy is an old associate of the clan – I’ve never managed to truly appreciate Olaf Rupp’s technique whenever the occasion arose to evaluate his output. Whiteout is the first attempt on an electric axe – a Fender Stratocaster played in a vertical position on Olaf’s laps – and a honest one too, regardless of the presence of a number of not excessively precious tracks (sorry, I hardly identify with those jangling overdriven mega-clusters which saturate the headphones, destroying the fine details by drowning them in a jumble of noise). On the contrary, when Rupp puts the fingers in trickle-and-dribble mode he generates cascades of scintillating harmonics and minuscule glitzy notes which constitute the most solid asset of an admittedly unsympathetic approach. A world difficult to penetrate, despite the use of the best mental flexibility available; the promise is to try again, as repeated listens didn’t reveal anything that could cause a change of perspective for the moment.

The late Peter Kowald’s off-the-cuff creativity is also evidenced in an unaccompanied release, Open Secrets, captured on tape in 1988 at FMP Studios. This is not an easy assessment of a record for a reviewer to do. We’re listening to one of the finest double bassist of the last 40 years, a man whose integrity is totally out of question, a technique allowing him to generate what the liners rightly define as “bass sculptures”. Indeed the nine chapters of this CD explore the imperceptible deformities of instrumental nimbleness quite deeply, the modest virtuoso extracting juices of significance even from a connection of fairly regular if unpredictable (from the point of view of a “tonality”) plucked lines. Kowald’s aesthetic pledge is explicated by the unique crossing of arco and glissando that characterize the title track, for which finding a resemblance to whatever else is next to impossible. On the other hand, the pictorial qualities of the large part of this music, in conjunction with the ever-lucid articulation of the artist’s creative notion, aren’t in any case enough to elevate this job to the level of masterpieces such as John Eckhardt’s Xylobiont or Paul Rogers’ Listen. This comes from over two decades ago, though – don’t you ever forget. It is by all means an appealing collection, required listening for any serious practiser (or plain lover) of this colossal instrument.

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