Jim Franklin: shakuhachi, live electronics; Hubert Bergmann: prepared piano
The shakuhachi is the Zen instrument par excellence, and Hubert Bergmann is a man who – despite his training in free jazz and modern composition – is entirely aware of the value of rational quietness and instrumental placement during the act of playing. The same, naturally, seems to apply to Jim Franklin whose art I had never met before. As a consequence you have one of the finest Mudoks releases, eleven duets where the interaction between flute and piano reaches levels of sharp sentience, the resultant music navigating antithetical waters linking gamelan, ceremonial gesture and experimentation with electronics, without forgetting the primal substances of improvisation (although the tracks are credited to an individual “composer” every time).
In such a dynamically diverse context, we almost tend to neglect the sheer bravura of each player given the contentment deriving from the action as an expression of integrity. But there’s no question about Franklin and Bergmann’s adroitness, even when the specific voices get noticeably re-adjusted, timbral impairment experienced inside the most radically modified atmospheres. I’m thinking, for instance, of “Approximation”, where the overall texture benefits from repetitively dissonant twisted blowing and sweetly metallic crescendos of pitched droplets. Or the nearly illogical, yet perfectly intelligible visions characterizing a truly great piece titled “Conference”. As the prospects become wider – and this can happen within the ambit of a single track after minutes of hellish clustering – there’s no recyclable word apt to depict a throng of grotesque reverberations, gushing arpeggios and aberrantly twirping tones, which finds no collocation in genres as we know them. Moments of veritable meditation are not missing either, the best example being perhaps the concluding “The 7th Valley”.
This brand of multi-faceted acousmatic vehicle sounds authentic, organic and “animately radical” enough to distance itself – by a marine mile – from certain “experiments” that many so called “explorers” perform with robust safety nets under their predictable flights. Still keeping the spiritual values high, as the head gets thoroughly cleansed from commonplace attitudes towards the various states of contemplativeness.
Hubert Bergmann: piano; Yellerwood: voice; Udo Schindler: reeds, cornet
This project originates from a pleasurable Roman afternoon spent by yours truly with Hubert Bergmann, who – having known that this writer’s spouse is, in essence, an atypical songwriting specimen – thought that some experimentation using her vocalism would have constituted an intriguing attempt to do something singular. Files of Bergmann’s duets with Udo Schindler were emailed, and in a matter of several months Yellerwood recorded and “assembled” a number of parts, adapting them to three of the thirteen chapters. The result is Rome Hills, a set of on-the-edge yet totally comprehensible acoustic pictures that manage to sound deluxe and/or crazy depending on the moment.
The technical endowments involved are conspicuous, making for gratifying listening even by just considering the merely aesthetic values. But there are unquestionable depths to be probed all over the program. Bergmann and Schindler enrich their dialogue with fluent savoir-faire in “Blinksquint”, a track that sounds bluesier than the actual blues present in the disc (“Final Palestine Blues”, which sees the cornet as a somewhat drunken protagonist). “Dim Minuendoyalp” juxtaposes warrior-like discordant propulsion with aleatory trajectories replete with primeval cries and cultivated sentences. “Piazzazappa” doesn’t recall anything near the namesake Frank as far as I can hear, showing that high speed and clever finickiness can coexist; a coherent obstinacy imbued with a modicum of semi-sociability. “Candle Fright” is out-and-out glorious, Bergmann’s reserved chords creating the grounds for Schindler’s clarinet to wail quietly, surgical precision defining this great execution. The pianist also dedicates a series of Cecil Taylor-esque flurries to Alfred 23 Harth in “Hearth To Play”.
Yellerwood – who idolizes Meredith Monk, feels a spiritual kinship with Amanda Parsons (of Northettes renown) and goes to sleep with Laura Nyro in the iPod – lends gleaming sinewy pitches to a Bergmann poem in “There Is No Panic Room Where Light And Shadows Could”, jumping ranges with flexible authoritativeness to situate the piece inside early 20th century territories. “Smellägood” – a restfully eerie, quasi-lowercase episode – finds her testing the comrades’ silent wisdom via sharp lilliputian vocalizations mutating into elliptical clusters. In the album’s finale “Cathy’s Bardobath Aria” (note: the girl had never heard Mrs. Berberian’s work before, believe it or not) an underworld of sarcastic elves pushes a growingly complicated entanglement of screechy reeds, immoderate pianism and extremist tittle-tattle to ultimate choral pandemonium, an impertinent tuneful signature utilized as wrap-up amidst the stunned “oohs” of those curious creatures. There seems to be no genre restriction to respect when open-minded artists decide to produce stimuli for everybody’s ears, and they really mean it.
Hubert Bergmann is still too little known in regard to his improvisational lucidity and conscientious tackling of past issues of jazz pianism. Reminiszenzen, released in 2010, lasts 75 minutes; usually I consider this duration excessive (with the exclusion of minimalism and trance), yet the fruits of Bergmann’s imagination are equally juicy and delicate. His handling of the keyboard gives the idea of a gratifying multiplicity of meanings, fortunately lacking the insufferable sense of excitement-deflating sanctity typical of myths who extract a hundred of Euros from a viewer’s pocket in order for them to watch their presumed eroticism on the instrument (do I need to name mames? Yes, he’s the one I’m referring to). Even a pessimistic analyst like yours truly can’t help but rejoice when the ears are filled with music whose picturesque aspects are discarded in favour of a series of veritable soul-opening sessions. The dedications and influences are diverse – Satie to Scarlatti, Monk to Davis – and there’s space for each of them in the articulated propositions that the German presents to the listener. These itineraries are also informed by from-the-inside delicacies and well-mannered explanations interspersed with abrupt increases in the number of notes played and unpredictable dynamic variations: as a problem materializes, a solution is instantly found. This is how an erudite musician manages to throw intellectual cloaks away, appearing as a human aerial through which sounds from different eras resonate and propagate.
No need to restate who Mary Halvorson is, but hearing pianist Hubert Bergmann at work was a premiere for this reviewer; a satisfying first meeting, to be sure. The improvised set, lasting less than half a hour, was taped in a single afternoon; despite the swift agreement, this recording – the lone time in which the two played together – contains a good number of pros and almost no cons, acquiring value with each new listen. A brief interlocutory phase starts the duet, both artists touching the respective instrument’s strings cautiously yet probingly, atonal implicitness and rarefaction going hand in hand. As the minutes start flowing so does the musicians’ unrest, a parallelism of insistent arpeggios becoming the predominant feature. Bergmann moves all around the keyboard in cascades and clusters, distantly recalling Keith Tippett’s mesmerizing agitations; Halvorson responds with wounding diagonals and discordant scales – which Robert Fripp post Discipline would approve with a smile – at times twisted by the use of a whammy pedal. Intervals of charming quietness turn up from the sixteenth minute on, the couple slowing down every once in a while as if willing to check at what point they’ve arrived, the waters calming a bit through restful piano chords and a little breathing in between the guitar’s clean lines. This alternance is a decisive substantiation of the mutual receptiveness which defines the music’s quality, eventually classifying MixTour as a welcome introduction to Bergmann’s capacities and one among the many interesting releases involving Halvorson.
Musical fruitfulness doesn’t come easy. But in an improvisation between two men who are playing together for the first time, something incredible can happen: the instantaneous poignancy of the just-generated material, the visible sparks of the respective imaginations, the concrete explanation behind that fundamental instinct which pushes gifted humans to attempt a creative act to look into themselves to begin with, and communicate with fellow talented specimens later on.
Zone De Memoire is the result of one of those born-in-heaven encounters. Pianist Hubert Bergmann and reedist Gilad Atzmon recorded these magnificent seven tracks in an afternoon, prior to a concert of the latter with Sarah Gillespie at Überlingen, on Lake Constance. Already in the opening exchanges of the initial “Roof Of Clouds” it is quite evident that there was no mâitre around to make sure that the champagne was being served. Straight away, the couple enters the areas where there is nothing else besides those intelligible figurations, significance distilled from an alternance of passionate inflexions and softened accents, occasionally leaving room to precious instants where riveting intuitions and an impressive sense of anticipation prevail on a potentially damaging paroxysm, turning impromptu gestures into a contrapuntal logic of the highest order.
Piano, alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet. Well known colours, both in jazz and free music at large, appearing all the more familiar when there’s no need of radical disruptions to hit the right spots in a listener. Bergmann’s touch and physical mastery on the keyboard are decisively solid despite a lingering romantic aura; Atzmon seems to exhale melancholy even when the fire in his tone burns hot, sheltering hopes and fears under hundreds of melodic insights. You are not going to experience the kind of inner laceration caused by the harshest types of sonic message; and yet, ATZBE belong to that category of unstained virtuosos that manage to appear noble and unpretentious at once. The ones who suggest us to leave whatever we’re doing, and get the instrument in our hands again for the few inestimable minutes of wordless contentment that life still reserves beyond bogus cosmic connections and ever-torn nets.