Hands in the Dark

Talented young Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler with her solo record In Otherness Oneself (UNSOUNDS 73U), sometimes using a quarter-tone keyboard…she herself speaks many different languages, and extends this aspect of herself to her music, such that each of the seven pieces is said to have its own unique musical language. She spent some time developing these and I think we can assume that the recording, which took place on just one day, was only one part of all the preparatory effort that went into the realisation of In Otherness Oneself.

The other thing she’s big on is “possession”; she sees the artistic creative act as one where the spirit, or some other powerful unknown agency, takes hold of the creator and inhabits them, such that the musician knows no peace until the work is completed. Draksler is quite clear about her interest in voodoo; at any rate, that Haitian ceremony (which some see as an advanced form of hypnosis) is referred to as a direct inspiration for her practice. Around the third piece ‘Prst, Roka, Laket’ one begins to get some sense of the difference between these examples of her musical language experiments; one also clearly detects the Cecil Taylor strain of influence, that free jazz titan who has become one of her personal mentors. She has written an academic paper on the man for her master’s degree thesis, and even the title of this album is drawn from a Cecil Taylor poem. What’s interesting is how she deploys the block-chords and quicksilver detailed tinkling sounds which, in Taylor’s hands result in a somewhat aggressive and overwhelming typhoon of complex music. In Draksler’s hands, the result is much more approachable and accessible, allowing us to appreciate the details of the music. I believe Kaja Draksler is very much aware of her situation as a cultured European who learned free jazz as part of her education, but in making these references to the history of Afro-American music she is doing her part to enrich the culture, doing it in a very compassionate and appreciative manner.

She’s also plugged into what she calls the “Dutch jazz / improvised music legacy”, reflecting the fact that she did her studies in the Netherlands, and continues to flourish with her fellow musicians in Amsterdam – besides her own Octet, there are collaborations with Terrie Ex, Onno Govaert, and other players. Besides all the jazz strains, In Otherness Oneself still remains a largely unclassifiable work of modernism, with detectable avant-classical elements (the use of quarter-tone keyboard might be a nod in a Cagean direction) and small experimental flourishes, such as including recordings of texts and poems on two tracks. From 19 April 2022.