Monday, November 4, 2013

Chris Abrahams and Magda Mayas, Gardener

Not everything in the heavens and on earth is known in our philosophies, to garble Shakespeare a bit on this Monday morning. In music that is occurring right now, unfolding before our very ears, that may be especially true. Take the album Gardener (Relative Pitch 1011), a series of duo improvisations by Chris Abrahams and Magda Mayas.

The two each play pianos, harpsichords and harmoniums, as they see fit from number to number. They get heavily immersed in some highly abstract, avant new music sorts of improvisations, creating a complex diversity of sounds both exotic and down-to-earth. And they do it very well. This is music that no philosopher could have dreamed up 100 years ago. And yet it fits in with the new free-avant music world that has grown increasingly multi-faceted in the last 20 years or so. No longer can you say that "free music," "free jazz" or "avant improvisation" is only a matter of this or that. It is today a matter of many different shades of performative sound.

Abrahams and Mayas come down in an area of abstraction that took shape in various ways both in the music of Cecil Taylor and in Europe--all in the very late '50s and into the '60s and beyond--what some people now call improv. It has some roots in avant classical but has the expressive spontaneity of jazz improvisation, and of course with Cecil these latter roots are especially fundamental. With Abrams and Mayas the attention is to the immediate in-the-moment sculpting of sound and timbres, so the piano for example is as often as not prepared, and the sensual qualities of the three instruments played by both performers contrast and commingle in attractive ways. Then too it IS about the notes, about the phrasings, the sounds and the silences, and some of the avant jazz aspects of the music come through at times in these zones especially.

But no, there are no symmetrical, structured barline sorts of regularities here. It is open form pretty much all the way. And the trick with this kind of music, as done well like the two artists at hand do, is to let yourself focus on the passing parade of sound and tone, to evacuate the evaluating mind of expectations, and to let the sounds take you where they will. Listen more than once, preferably many times, and the singularity of the program will become apparent. That's what I did. I come away from this one with a feeling of satisfaction, that what these two are doing is good, very good, and the idea that I will welcome another hearing.

That's when you know you've got something. This is something. Recommended.

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