Solo Piano: Kaori Osawa & Genevieve Foccroulle
Kaori Osawa's Aluminum, though not a traditional approach to solo piano (if one even exists), might be closer to that than Genevieve Foccroulle's Braxton set of solo piano music; for starters Osawa's nine pieces fit on a single CD as opposed to the Foccroulle nine-disc set that has one piece stretching over two discs and being 90 minutes in duration! Not Keith Jarrett-like in flowing melodies and not Cecil Taylor-esque with dissonant, percussive intensity, Osawa stakes out her own unique space in the universe of solo piano recordings. One is sure that she is aware of solo piano history; however she confidently plays with more dynamic contrast than most and has a sense of rhythmic and motific development that is maybe closer to progressive rock than jazz or classical music. That said, the harmonies are closer to jazz. You sense that she is never on auto-pilot, always in touch with the music on an emotional level, on a content level and on the level of communicating with the listener. The endings to "Soda Funk" and "Optimism" are powerfully decisive, yet also powerfully spontaneous. Osawa's pieces tend to 'travel' more; she's really improvising and not sticking to a specific idea or sound to fulfill a more compositional (or any other) agenda. "Winter in Berlin" presents a softer, meditative approach; it's the longest track on the CD, but for all its tranquility, it's always engaging, always sincere. Her version of Monk's "Well You Needn't" is free of the dogma with which an American musician might approach it, yet it's true to its original impulse and feels completely satisfying as an artistic statement.
Jazz listeners will be familiar with the fact that not only does Anthony Braxton play saxophones, flutes and clarinets but is one of the most prolific composers in the history of jazz. Genevieve Foccroulle's Anthony Braxton: Piano Music (1968-2000) is a fantastic set (deep music and glorious/generous package make for an historic event), another important exhibit in presenting the case that music of this new millennium is not just about jazz, not just classical, not just world, but an organic integration of all these styles. The piano is an important instrument to Braxton as he's made recordings as a pianist himself, but as in this set (and the Hildegard Kleeb recording, Piano Music (Notated) 1969-1988 on hatART), "Composition No. 1" is presented. Note well: "Composition No. 1" is not for saxophone or jazz quartet, it is for piano.
We cannot disregard that this is the second multiple CD set of Anthony Braxton's written piano music; yet the inclusion of "Composition No. 171" (this is the piece that fills two CDs) makes the release a must-have for Braxton fans and throws down the gauntlet to the 'serious' or 'Euro-centric' music community to deal with Braxton as a composer. Though for piano, the performer must also recite a libretto while playing, taking on the (acting) role of Forest Ranger Crumpton, who describes a section of an imaginary world in which a system of parks provides various experiences for its citizenry. This is a tour de force for both composer and performer and, like with all great pieces of art, questions arise as the listeners absorb the music. For instance, is Braxton making a sociopolitical statement or having a bit of fun (or both)?
There are two booklets included with Foccroulle's nine-CD set: the complete libretto and performance notes for "Composition No. 171" and a set of edifying liner notes by Stuart Broomer that include transcribed portions of conversations with both Braxton and Foccroulle. Foccroulle's dynamics are more extreme than Kleeb's and she does not include "Composition No. 16" (for four pianos), which Kleeb did record by overdubbing. Ultimately though, this set is a major artistic statement, even for a composer from whom we have come to expect great things.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Soda Funk,; Spring's Snow; Optimism; Winter in Berlin; Dr. Martin; Today; Well You Needn't; Temple of Tendai-Summer; Aluminum.
Personnel: Kaori Osawa: piano.
Anthony Braxton Piano Music (1968-2000)
Tracks: Disc 1; Comp. No. 1; Comp No. 5; Comp. No. 10; Comp. No. 139; Disc 2; Comp. No. 30; Disc 3; Comp. No. 31; Disc 4; Comp. No. 32 (version 1); Comp. No. 301; Disc 5; Comp. No. 32 (version 2); Disc 6; Comp. No. 33; Disc 7; Comp. No. 171; (Part 1A); Disc 8; Comp. No. 171 (Part 1B); Press conference; Comp. No. 171 (part 2); Disc 9; The Trip.
Personnel: Genevieve Foccroulle: piano, vocals.