Play Station 6

(Evil Rabbit Records)

Of all the "genres" in music that I listen to, the one that's conventionally referred to as "improvised music" is maybe the one I think about more often. On one hand, the (quite large) number of different approaches, the (by now), on the average, excellent quality of what gets released, the (relative) user-friendliness of the final product, due to a better signal-to-noise ration on the part of the CD when compared to vinyl, the existence of "languages" (both personal and shared) that still sound fresh, all this makes for a very pleasant experience. On the other hand, though noisy (and ephemeral) phenomena occur from time to time, due to some element that's fashionable for a little while (here I'd say the laptop to be a good example from recent times), as a whole, the "genre" has never had a large audience (once in a while I think about whether the number of listeners is really that larger than the number of players); while the fact that more and more types of music, defeated by market forces, look for dignity (and funding!) in Festivals that are subsidized by public money has improvisers in a position of inferiority when compared to those who, though semi-poor, have a name that's well-known.

I happen to think about these matters, more so when I listen to a CD like the one released by the sextet called Play Station 6. Musicians who are for the most part well-known (details in a moment), whose approach to music here is in my opinion quite clear: it's not the "particles", the "grain", of sound that gets investigated here; instead, six instrumental approaches get combined to produce something that's original, though not of the "never-heard-before" type. Given their geographical origins (five Dutch, one German), and instrumentation (winds, strings, percussion), I think it's not impossible for readers to have a mental picture of how this music sounds. The album was recorded by Stefan Deistler in Cologne and mixed and mastered by Frank Van Der Weij in Amsterdam: it's a clear sound, which in my opinion greatly benefits from a bit more volume on the amplifier.

I'm not terribly familiar with Achim Kaufmann, here on piano, both in its straight and prepared guise, and Meinrad Kneer, on double bass. One of the founders of European Improvising, Paul Lovens developed his personal approach in a variety of situations, from large ensembles like the Globe Unity Orchestra to percussion dialogues with Paul Lytton. I listened for the first time to violin player Maartje ten Hoorn in the mid-80s, in groups led by Maarten Altena, and later in Misha Mengelberg's Instant Composers Pool Orchestra; I think she's nowadays quite well-known (check her nice CD for string quartet, titled Sparkles). Once they were "young guys on the scene", now they are solid realities that need no introduction: clarinet and saxophone (tenor) player Tobias Delius and cornet player Eric Boeren are the elements that more often here refer to "jazz" climates.

(A personal note: Though I heard Boeren for the first time more than twenty years ago, when he was part of an Altena-led line-up, though I tried very hard, I never managed to buy one of the albums where he was the leader, some of which were favourably reviewed in Down Beat and in The Penguin Guide To Jazz On CD. From what I understand, 4/5 of his CDs are sent, fresh off the presses, to the U.S.A., the rest being shipped to some shops in London. OK, guys - but what about us?)

The six players mix and match to perfection. Once in a while the jazz comes out - first track on the CD, the brief Somorrostro reminded me of the theme to Ornette's Free Jazz; a jazzy, and agitated, tenor is featured on Man With Scythe, along with piano and double bass; there is also jazz on the long Bravas, which starting from 4' has a development that's almost Free. Not surprisingly, there are often traces of "classical-sounding" climates, where sometimes Boeren's skillful muted cornet adds a nice "mismatch".

Nice tracks are Glorie Van Holland, in some ways a good summary of the whole album; Misty; the long Unprepared; Alone, with a nice opening for solo double bass and nice work on tenor; the concentrated Outside Inside; Majo's Retreat, with "African" percussion, and a nice "cool" clarinet: for this writer, this is maybe the best piece on the album, in some ways reminiscent of the best pages by Anthony Davis. But it's the whole album that's really good and - keeping in mind the aforementioned coordinates - quite accessible.

The cover alerted me to the fact that all pieces are "live improvisations, no overdubs, no edits", and I have no reason to doubt this. But all tracks, though "unpredictable", have a sense of shape and proportion that's quite prodigious. (What about The Black Box? Violin and clarinet, plus rhythm, start the piece, but then - at 1'15" - we have silence, and then piano, and cymbals, that had me pleasantly wondering about how this transition had occurred.)

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2007 | Apr. 1, 2007