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Jeff Arnal / Dietrich Eichmann: live at the Phenomorphonic Festival


Ben and Hans of Graveyards/Melee/Traum et al have as fine a set of ears as anyone who has ever claimed improvised jazz as their area of expertise and the various non in-house projects that they choose to champion and release via Brokenresearch betray the kind of sophisticated feel for improvised sound as reified thought that many a 'fan' of jazz and associated modern, high energy forms could learn a thing or two from regarding the many subtle - and not so subtle - ways to extract a fucking tooth. This latest deluxe limited edition LP on their own label (run of only 200 copies in pro-printed sleeves) is another beautiful object lesson in just how well-listened and non-cliched their appreciation continues to be. Eichmann is a German pianist, composer, conceptualist, interpreter of modernists like Nono and Feldman and student of Alex Von Schlippenbach. Over the years he has produced a bunch of large scale ballets and performance pieces, most notably the Prayer To The Unknown Gods Of The People Without Rights, scored for ensemble and improvising soloist and first performed by Peter Brotzmann and the Wuppertal Chamber Orchestra. During the past five years or so he has reconnected with the stream of modern improvisatory modes, often in the company of American percussionist Jeff Arnal. This new recording, Live At The Phenomorphonic Festival sees the duo knee-deep in pedalling power stomps, obsessing over a mere clutch of notes that they work to emphasise in splintered, obsessive rhythms. The effect is closer to the work of Charlemagne Palestine than Cecil Taylor, although there's little of Palestine's continual expansion of ideas or lightness of touch; instead each note feels like its being hammered to the floor and the persistence with which they're sounded again and again is almost autistic. Arnal falls in behind Eichmann with pounding single shots and scattered tonal sunbursts that briefly illuminate the hulking dungeons of tone that Eichmann thuds from the instrument. Indeed, there's very little of the sound of the piano's keys, with Eichmann spending most of his time wading through the guts of the piano with heavy boots and sandpaper. This is the most impressive and conceptually far-reaching sounding of post-Cecil piano I've heard in the past whenever; a major statement from a profoundly singular stylist. So sign me up.

volcanic tongue

Graveyards swung through town on Friday which meant lots and lots of bills were exchanged for records, and one I selected was this highly recommended document of two individuals I'd never even heard of just a day prior. Graveyards cellist Hans Buetow gave a quick rundown and an effusive on-the-spot review of it, which made it all sound really good but I had to remind myself that it was put out on Hans' label, after all. But regardless, I'd heard other good things and had enough other stuff with the Graveyards brand on it in my mitts already, so I figured why the f not. That night I got home and left it out intending to spin it on my way to sleep, but alas I actually wound up falling asleep before I could put it on. So when I awoke to go to the bathroom at noon Saturday (early to bed, early to rise!), I did put it on before I went back to sleep and just from the first half of the first side that I managed to catch, I was head over heels. Later that day I went back and played it all, then I played it again, and again, and again, until I decided I'd bump everything else in the review schedule (it exists, really!) down one to slot in this magnificent slab. At first I thought I was way behind, what with the date on the back of the sleeve reading 2006 and all, but I got on this here internet and discovered it just hit in April, apparently. Well, whatever. Still doesn't really excuse me from knowing nothing about these two gents as they did put out a CD on Leo in 2004 called "The Temperature Dropped Again" which I spoze I coulda heard about if I had my ear more to the floor, but you can't catch em all and my name ain't Ash. Turns out Jeff Arnal is a Brooklyn-based percussionist with names like Charles Gayle, John Hughes, Gordon Beeferman, Donald Miller, Ryan Smith, Nate Wooley, Michael Evans and way more than I care to name, while Dietrich Eichmann is a pianist who studied with Alexander von Schlippenbach before turning to free jazz, only to then focus on composition for the next twelve years. He's recently returned to the improvised jazz limelight with, among others, the Dietrich Eichmann Ensemble and the Straight Trio with Lars Scherzberg and Astrid Weins. And now that we know the roots, we can get to know the fruits.
Turns out Hans is no liar - "Live in Hamburg" = two great sides of free-thunked jazz academia via Arnal's percussion and Eichmann's prepared piano. On the first side, Eichmann prepares his piano in such a manner as to make it sound something like a rusty drainpipe banging against aluminium siding in the rainstorm that Arnal's stirring up with skittery cymbal splashes and light, jerky skin hits. If you peruse the Brokenresearch descripto, it says thus: "mechanistic as complimentary and logical - eschewing the randomness typically associated with improvisation", which is exactly what was dawning on me as the side played to a close - as different as these cats seem to be on first glance, they at least know each other well enough musically to constantly stay in step. In fact, they often end up repeating or recycling rhythms as they go, like they're both got a shared headspace set aside for those compositional tendencies to be blurted out live as they're rolling along. The whole first side is the kind of in-the-zone drizzle I could find myself playing over and over for days. Wait, that's exactly what I've been doing. Carry on.
Whereas side A was more or less one long train of thought, the flip changes up quite a bit. Eichmann starts out by strumming the piano's guts while Arnal rends out dollops of heavy-weighted thud muck before settling into a refrain reminiscent of the hack n' slash kinesthetics of the prior side. That all changes later as the duo dredge up tense horror film approaches mixed with a sound not totally unlike Harry Partch's "Delusion of the Fury" before Eichmann reverts his piano back to a more traditional sound, plunking and plinking while Arnal sounds like he's playing his kit with little more than his bare hands. All these different little subsections are interspersed with either notes so low you can barely hear them or a full-on silence, and after the last gasp for breath they wind up wonderfully for the conclusion, Arnal's brush-clutching limbs moving almost robotically across the gently resonating drum surfaces and Eichmann's lines rolling automatically like a Conlon Nancarrow player piano hymn. Simultaneously red hot and icy cool, this is a record of two exceptionally gifted artists coming together to make a joyful noise, and we should count ourselves lucky to be amongst the 8 billion who have a shot at hearing it. However you'll have to be quick if you want to hear this particular expression, since Brokenresearch only pressed up 200 of em and you know it'll be gone in a flash once it hits the Volcanic Tongue front page, guaranteed. I'll get around to the other Graveyards-related goodness from the weekend on other day, but for now this is the real unmissable, tops of '07 to date for sure.

Outer Space Gamelan




by oaksmus