Piano Of Forest

We have heard once from the Austrian pianist Elisabeth Harnik, as part of the trio RedDeer with Dominic Lash and Fay Victor, on the New York – St. Johann record they made for Evil Rabbit Records, where I noted her “complex and intelligent piano delivers more than just jazz, somehow”. Today she’s teamed up with the English violin played Alison Blunt to create the album Morphic Resonance and Other Habits of Nature (INEXHAUSTIBLE EDITIONS ie-021), containing eleven choice chunks of inventive and spirited improvisation.

The title of the album might be intended to evoke “force of nature” associations, as do the cover photos which show the frame of a piano standing oddly in the middle of the woods, and printed in a faded manner which conveys a vaguely nostalgic vibe; the image of said piano frame capped with snow (inside cover) is especially evocative. As ever, finding it futile to try and describe this music, but will start out by stating that Alison Blunt is a revelation, performing with elan and a swiftness of mind and heart that produces fairly astonishing tones. I am always impressed when people can do this without sounding aggressive; it could be described as “attack”, but I feel enlivened by the music, not invaded or defeated. Harnik may have prepared the piano on some tracks, as we’re getting an occasional muffled or non-natural tone from her stabbed chords and runs.

As a whole, the music has much of what I’m seeking from free improvisation – tension, dynamics, surprising gaps here, equally surprising leaps of faith there. The ability to do this in real time, making decisions quickly and with conviction and assurance, never ceases to amaze me. I can hear faint echoes of Cecil Taylor and Leroy Jenkins, a match which would be made in Heaven for me. Bonus for civilians who claim they hate free improv: there are on this record traces of classical elements, perhaps coming from the Austrian half of the act, which means the music has seconds of melody and structure which might be enough to draw you in, and while remaining free as a flock of wild eagles, it doesn’t deny conventions to the point of idealistic purity.

I’d like to think both these musicians have developed their skills using a lot of intuition and inner conviction, rather than signing up to some strict intellectual charter of how free music “ought” to be played. A gem. From 29 January 2020.

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