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Album Review

Zlatko Kaućić: Diversity


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This 5-CD box Diversity was produced to honor Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaučič's 40 years in music. It is many things, but what it is not, is a career retrospective. How could it be? For quite awhile the drummer was a nomad, moving to Barcelona in 1976, then Amsterdam where he absorbed the new Dutch swing. His career has touched a who's who of musicians from Irene Schweitzer, to Misha Mengelberg, Peter Brötzmann, Paul Bley, and Steve Lacy, to name but a few. Upon his return to to Slovenia in 1992, he got busy fostering the jazz scene. No, this is not a retrospective because this music focuses on his free jazz and improvising. The live and studio music does not touch on Kaučič's more traditional jazz experience, his orchestral work, the Disorder At The Border recordings with the Italian musicians Daniele D'Agaro and Giovanni Maier, and Kombo B which released Rock Mi Monk (Zvočni Izviri, 2017), the excellent Thelonious Monk tribute.

The 5-CDs explore six different interfaces with free improvisation, from his solo work to duos, a trio, and a quartet.

Disc One is a trio recording from Ljubljana, Slovenia in 2016 with pianist Agusti Fernandez and saxophonist Evan Parker. Both artists previously recorded duos with Kaučič for Not Two Records. The live recording features seven sections entitled "Butterfly Wings." Parker sticks exclusively to tenor saxophone here, and Fernandez is always apt to open the piano for manipulation of its insides. The trio makes music very much in the British tradition of free music, and Kaučič's playing elicits comparisons to Paul Lytton and the German percussionist Paul Lovens. Each piece is packed and unpacked with clusters of sound and the contrasting silences. Kaučič takes on the role of the busy sous-chef ensuring all manner of sound comes together. He utilizes every tool in his kitchen from metal, to skins, plastic, mallets, and his electric zither. This three-way conversation tiptoes (mostly) as the players are more apt to listen here than shout.

Disc Two was recorded two days earlier in Italy, and it is just a duo with Parker. "Just" doesn't begin to explain this live recording. Like their previous recording Round About One O'Clock (Not Two, 2011) the pair are locked into a debate, albeit a mostly friendly one. Their push-pull is at times a call-and-response, and elsewhere comment and provocation. Kaučič ranges between weird invented sound and thunderous bass drum bombs. His cymbal etchings and electric zither sounds invite Parker to dole out trancelike waves of notes. Elsewhere they deliver the classic free jazz tenor/drums performance of sound-on-sound-energy jazz. As a standalone release, this might be an album of the year candidate.

Along the same line of thought, Kaučič's solo performance on disc three is a complete meal in itself. This is the only studio recording in this boxset and it makes good use of the pristine setting to capture the most intimate of sounds. Listeners might recognize some of Kaučič's approach in the music of Chicago's Tim Daisy, and it wouldn't be a stretch to says the two share similar DNA. He favors "lean-in" music. Small details emanate from his homemade percussive devices, gongs, and his electric zither, which trades off ambient meditations with the rattle tick buzz of an engaged musician.

The fourth disc features saxophonist Lotte Anker, trumpeter Artur Majewski, and bassist Rafal Mazur, and it is perhaps a reprise of their recording Plodi (Klopotec, 2017). Like the trio outing, when the number of musicians increases, so does the attentiveness. The music here is mostly minimal. Kaučič acts as a hushed commenter, brushes painting cymbals, clattering metals, found objects, and electric impulses firing. His compatriots find inspiration in (small "i") improvisations. Slurry horns and bowed bass interactions sow seeds of group creation.

The fifth disc feature two sections. The first is a duo with the German trombonist Johannes Bauer, who apparently has as many tools packed into his trombone as Kaučič has in his percussion closet. The pair tap out Morse code, slide stuttering notes at each other, and sound as if they are two boys rolling around on a field of green grass. Bauer's vocalizations lead nicely into the 24-minute duet the drummer delivers with the British improvising singer Phil Minton. The vocalist brings out Kaučič's inner-Han Bennink. The drummer exorcises sound from paper, metal, skins and, of course, his electric zither. Minton whispers, whistles, snorts, chortles, howls in a maelstrom of crowd pleasing music making.

Somebody (everybody) put in your orders for part II, III, and IV of this Kaučič celebration.

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