CD Reviews

Monday 23rd November

November 23, 2009

imaotoThe headache I went to bed with last night stuck around for most of today as well, and only this evening after a decent meal do I feel a bit fitter. I have managed to listen to some music today though, quite a bit of it actually, though I am only going to write about the one disc now. The CD in question is Imaoto, the much anticipated duo release of improvisations by Radu Malfatti and Klaus Filip on the Erstwhile label.  Imaoto came out at almost exactly the same time as another duo improv release involving Malfatti, his self released Berlinerstrasse 20 recording with Lucio Capece. It is interesting to compare the two recordings, because although they were recorded some ten months apart and are quite similar in style, they differ greatly in how they were recorded, Imaoto very cleanly in Christoph Amann’s Vienna studio, Berlinerstrasse 20 a recording of a live concert in Cologne this year. To be clear, the Cologne recording is not bad at all, in fact it captures quiet music in a live setting very well indeed, but still there is the uncertainty of what is music and what is room noise, is every tiny sound heard a deliberate fingernail flicked at a trombone bell, or did someone’s chair creak at the back? Radu Malfatti has always sought to present his music as clearly as possible, with as little background noise as can be achieved. he has been known to replace open air recorded silences with computer generated digital silences before now on one or two releases. So the pristine quality of Amann’s recording is probably very pleasing to him indeed. Personally though, I’m not so sure right now which I prefer. I do enjoy the sharp, well defined edges of the sound on Imaoto, and it is great to have a document of Malfatti’s improvisation recorded this well, but then I also rather enjoy the way the music combines with its surroundings on other releases, and on some of the later play throughs of Imaoto (I have probably listened to it fifteen times now) I found it more enjoyable to play the CD very quietly indeed and allow it to blend into the environment here as I listened.

I wrote about Berlinerstrasse 20 here. Imaoto then is a fifty minute CD split into two tracks named Ima and Oto, “Now” and “Sound” respectively when translated from the Japanese. The music is everything I hoped and expected it to be. I first saw this duo play live in Brooklyn, New York back in 2006 ans was left spellbound, waiting for a CD release. I saw them play again in Scotland in March this year, and while their music had moved on a little since that first performance they were still exceptional, and so my enjoyment of this release was probably never in doubt. Over the past eighteen months or so Malfatti’s improvised music has moved on somewhat. He has certainly begun to play more each time he sits down to improvise. Like with Berlinerstrasse 20 there are actually very few silences indeed here, and sounds are not just limited to the breathy low trombone tones he has become so adept at producing. There are a lot of small percussive sounds, mostly produced from flicking and tapping the bell of his instrument. here though, Amann’s recording has elevated these tiny moments into highly noticable events. In live situations, either having watching Malfatti play, or from the Cologne document these little taps and clicks are buried deep in the mix to the point that some spectators have completely missed their presence as part of the music. They work as a perfect balance to the extended tones of the trombone and from Klaus Filip’s sinewaves however, tiny, almost mechanical and cold compared to the rich warmth of the other sounds.

Klaus Filip is an excellent improviser, and his long term use of a limited palette of sounds stands him in good stead as Malfatti’s collaborator. His music is incredibly subtle, on the surface just a selection of sinewaves, but in fact each sound is carefully chosen and beautifully placed. This album as his mark on it as much as Malfatti. Sometimes it feels as if he places sounds exactly where Malfatti might not want them, a deep tone covering a low trombone rumble, a high pitched whistle just as Malfatti seems to leave a space in the music. This all adds to the sense of engaging conversation in this music however, and there is really is conversation, though the tension is built through quietly made points rather than angry shouting matches. There may be less silence in Malfatti’s recent improvisation but still the gabbiness is kept at arms length 😉

Like with the Capece duo, there is a distinct feeling of architectural structure to this music. Sounds seem to always have a purpose, and always an important one. The music feels like it would fall apart if any part was removed. There is no filler, no sense of weaker areas where things might not have worked as well. The music feels designed, which is probably a terrible term to describe improvised music with, especially when the disc’s title highlights the immediacy of the composition. I do not mean to suggest anything bad from the comparison, but as the best minimal design sees items placed carefully on a page, relating to each other and making use of the negative space between to create tension and rhythm, so does the music here. During the second track the music, lead I think by Filip grows quite considerably in volume, and as one sinewave rolls its way through the midpoint of the album it also fluctuates slowly, changing in density and tone all the time. It hangs for nearly six minutes as Malfatti meets it with smaller percussive sounds, either the result of fingertaps or small spluttering gurgles through the trombone. This exchange is quite unlike anything I have heard from Malfatti for quite some time and is rather charming, a shift in the dynamic of the duo maybe and a nice way to head the music towards its closing section.

In a year when I have embraced improvised music of many colours and flavours and for many different reasons it is so nice to come back to an album like this. Imaoto is extremely beautiful, exceptionally well put together on all levels, and a real statement from Malfatti and Filip. It is a fantastic listen, either as a complete, finely crafted story to follow, or as an overlay to the world around you. It makes a great companion to the disc with Capece. They are musically very much equals, but the clarity of the recording on Imaoto gives a different perspective through which to view the music.

Comments (2)

  • jon abbey

    November 24, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    thanks for this, Richard, glad you enjoyed it. my perspective on these two is pretty different for many reasons, but one is that I didn’t hear Berlinerstrasse 20 until imaoto was almost out and I had already heard it a few dozen times over some months.

    anyway, your review made me think of our old discussion/s about Raku Sugifatti, and how I prefer disc 1 (by a lot) and you prefer disc 2. I think there are some general parallels between those two and these two.

  • Richard Pinnell

    November 24, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Yes, the Raku Sugifatti discussion was very much in my mind as I wrote this. I didn’t bring it up as its very old hat now but I agree there are similarities. for the record, I like all four discs, I just lean a little towards the warmth of “in the room” recordings a little more.

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