Hans Fjellestad, Peter Kowald, Dana Reason, Jason Robinson

Dual Resonance

Circumvention Records, USA

First, an apology to all the artists on this CD that I didn't review it sooner! Sometimes it's hard to get to them all in any semblance of good time.

This date (two sessions from 2000 and 2003) showcases the late Peter Kowald, a bassist of estimable note in Europe who was not long ago also the focus of a documentary film by Laurence Petit-Jouvet entitled Off the Road: Peter Kowald Touring the U. S. in 2000. There's a movie we didn't see at our local hyperplex, and more's the pity.

In said film, according to tenor saxophonist Jason R's astute liner notes, one set-piece includes Kowald stopping passersby on a street in Atlanta, Georgia, and asking what they think the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's accomplishments were regarding equality. A very good, nay, an excellent question (for my money, as soon as we have an African-American president we can put it to bed.)

OK, you didn't punch up this review to check out a political screed. This CD is sixty-five minutes of the most thoughtful, engaging and border-busting improvisation I have heard this year. I'd have to go back to Rothenberg and Schmid's En Passant on Creative Works Records (reviewed in the April 2005 Jazz Now).

Far-ranging and rich in contrast, this CD will among other bits amaze you with a wiggy out statement from Robinson reined in by Dana Reason's delicate piano gliss ("Torus Knot") or some wild explorations under the lid from other pianist Fjellestad while Robinson drifts at a far orbit from the tone row everybody else is plowing ("Axial Current").

Slyly he moves toward the rest of them here, soon netted by Reason while meditating on a theme parallel to "My Old Flame"(can't even think of her name). Clever, and even more so how Fjellestad's piano-string flutters make one wonder if that's Kowald drawing the back of his bow across the bass strings. A fitting tribute without crocodile tears!

Robinson's tone generators and theremin-like noisemakers are also worth a listen whenever he avails himself of them, and Reason's more structured piano is all the earthly tether these musicians need whether Kowald is on the track or no.

The general attitude of Dual Resonance is not light-years distant from early Roscoe Mitchell or the Art Ensemble of Chicago in a contemplative mood for once. "Viscous Matter" features Kowald bowing the right way and making a bravura statement of it as he navigates Fjellestad's piano splinters. US Marine obstacle course, anyone?

Although the music here is cut up into eighteen sections, it works quite well as a continuous piece. Good editing, all! And given how regrettably Kowald is only to be found on about half the tracks, the unity of mood with and without him is to be complimented.

I should mention that Robinson's liner alludes to several duets in Off the Road which may be in the film (there's no direct mention of anything here being from the soundtrack), one of which includes Kowald and trombonist George Lewis, who joined one of Anthony Braxton's early quartets in the mid-1970s after Kenny Wheeler left. I can only imagine how that turned out!

Elsewhere, "Tomorrow's Question" is a weedy field of scraps of conversation cut up and replayed Burroughs-style as if on a Fairlight CMI (remember them?) while Robinson spits and gibbers through his sax mouthpiece but no sax.

Following and contrasting that is "Free Anomaly," a Marilyn Crispell-like statement for piano (Reason, possibly, and good job!) with strangled wind chimes (one of Fjellestad's synths, I guess). Robinson reattaches his sax and smears about the track's borders. Never a dull moment here!

No less a steady beacon of what many U.K. critics have lately dubbed "the New Complexity" than Tim Hodgkinson has wondered out loud as to how advisable recording improvised music is. He may have been thinking of how as one listens to a recording of improv over and over the surprise factor lessens. In the mind of the particular listener, I would think, eventually it becomes as predictable as chamber music over time. Maybe that's not what was originally intended by the musicians. Improvised music, some will tell you, is supposed to disappear in the air and never again be accessible. But different fans come to this art for different purposes, so for their sake, why not?

One last point: let me also note that this is, as you may have noticed, music that stimulates the gray matter. Good enough for me!

By K. Egbert