Friday 7th AugustAugust 7, 2009
First of all, thank you to everyone that pushed the visit counter down there to past the 50,000 hit marker today. sorry for constantly mentioning this, but I am always surprised by how many people read these pages and I am grateful. It makes the effort it takes to write here daily worthwhile to know a few people are reading. The 50,000th visitor was someone whose I.P. address is registered in Lawrence, Massachusetts, USA. if that is you, thanks. You really should win some kind of prize, but alas you don’t.;)
Tonight I have been listened to the new release by Polwechsel, the long-running improvised/composed music supergroup. The disc is named Field, and also includes the pianist John Tilbury as a guest musician. Yesterday I wrote about how Burkhard Beins (who also happens to be a member of Polwechsel) received a lot of criticism in certain circles for his last solo album. Polwechsel also found that their last release Archives of the North met with a considerable amount of disdain amongst the internet cognescenti, not entirely without good reason. The three Polwechsel albums that had preceded that release were all favourites of mine, so I was intrigued to see which direction this release took, particularly as the recordings included Tilbury, one of my favourite musicians playing today. The other members of the group at the time of this recording two years ago were Matin Brandlmayr, (drums and percussion) Werner Dafeldecker, (double bass) Michael Moser, (cello) Burkhard Beins (drums and percussion) and John Butcher, who has since left the group, playing tenor and soprano saxophone.
There are two pieces on Field. The first, lasting a little over twenty-two minutes is a composition written by Moser named Place / Replace / Represent. I am not certain to what degree this piece is composed. Certainly large sections of it sound improvised, but in the past I have been surprised to hear the group replicate in live shows whole passages from albums I had previously thought to be improvisation. Reading through the extensive but actually not all that revealing sleeve notes there is a suggestion that certain triggers from the drummers may have been signals to the group to play in certain ways, and indeed there are sections of the piece that are rhythmic, others that consist of blocks of relatively loud noise etc… that do seem to start in unison very quickly and end as if on a cue. Beyond this piece of guesswork I cannot really tell how impactive the composed structure of the piece might be. Place / Replace / Represent is otherwise a bit all over the place. There are some nice sounds involved here, and some interesting interplay between the different groups of instrumentation. (drums vs strings vs piano vs sax is actually quite a jazzy formation) If there is any kind of recognisable overall shape to the composition I’m afraid I cannot find it.
Tilbury is quite active throughout the start of this first composition, never quite slipping into his trademark chords we know from AMM, but coming close, and sounding very Feldmanesque throughout, he is actually joined by a second piano here, a playerless grand that had recordings of single notes played via speakers into the strings by Moser. The other musicians seem to enter proceedings, leave a sound or two then step away again, doing this over and over to give the music a feel of an episodic patchwork rather than any solid shape. Everything is very well played, sustained notes are impeccable, grainy, hissing percussion slips in and out smoothly, but I have to say that the piece sounds a bit like recordings of two chamber ensembles tuning up overlaid on each other. There are some nice patterns appearing, some interesting juxtapositions of sounds, but it all sounds a bit coincidental rather than composed. For a while the curio element of the piece held my attention, but after a while I just got a bit lost in the confusion of it all.
The second piece on the album is the title track; Field, and is a composition by Dafeldecker. This is very different animal altogether, and I must say a far, far more rewarding one. Dafeldecker uses a very simple technique to write this track, the placement of blocks of sound, with abrupt changes of volume and dynamic between them providing the main interest of the composition. There is little original in this kind of structure. Or at least, not in improvised music. If I am honest I can’t remember too many composed examples that are similar though. Maybe some of Malfatti’s work, but that is still some distance away. The track is made up of quiet then loud, then quiet then loud etc… sections. This in itself is not that interesting. Each little section though is actually very beautiful. The noisier, denser passages are rich with textural detail. the drums are never pounding, just brushed or rubbed, the strings a mass of tiny sounds rather than bold gestures, Butcher’s sax a blur of fluttering detail and Tilbury mainly playing the inside of the piano, saving his keyboard work for the more quiet, solemn sections. In actual fact his contributions are continually untypical of his playing during this piece. Some of the interplay during the rich parts is truly gorgeous. At around eleven minutes into the twenty minute (exactly) composition a gorgeous mass of filigree detail slowly revolves, with everyone involved, only to suddenly cut away (presumably on a signal) to leave a soft, warm bass rumble, the origin of which I can’t quite ascertain. This kind of thing happens over and over. Detail gives away to simplicity, density to space, loud to quiet, and all again in reverse. Its worth mentioning again though that while the simple switches from section to section give the piece its tension and excitement, this basic structure only works because of the depth and detail in each of the segments. Careful listening to a massed passage of sounds trains the ear in one way, so when it is suddenly replaced by a single piano note, or a gently caressed string the contrast amplifies the already beautiful moment.
Field the album is a work very much of two halves. While I found Moser’s composition a bit confusing and unfocussed, Dafeldecker’s Field is quite the opposite, very simple and able to showcase the skill of these experienced, subtle musicians to the full. The two works on the album are really very different, and so perhaps judging this album as one whole unit was always going to be a difficult thing to do. Personally I have played the Dafeldecker track twice as many times as the Moser now, and when I come back to this album, like I suspect I often will, I will likely jump straight to track two. So a 50% success. Enough to keep me interested until the next album anyway.