Amsterdam-based pianist Achim Kaufmann combines the fluidity of modern jazz with the extended techniques of avant-garde concert music on his latest solo album, Knives. Many of the works feature Kaufmann playing inside the piano. Besides plucking strings, he attacks the instrument's interior with a number of devices: rulers, a small hand sander, a piano tuner's wedge, and a vibraphone mallet. As can be imagined, this elicits a host of tone colors and textures, ranging from percussive to sustained, at points even including vibrato and keening overtones. "Her Hair a Dark River..." is a particularly evocative piece employing these materials. As might be expected (given its title), it's filled with tons of haunting sound effects.
Listeners who greet these types of post-Cage experiments with antipathy may be skeptical of Kaufmann's pianism, but give a listen to the workout that he gives to Herbie Nichols' "2300 Skiddoo"; you'll hear plenty of swing and a Monk-like fascination with piquant harmonies that brand his approach to the instrument as abundantly informed by jazz. Like Georg Graewe, Fred Van Hove, and John Wolf Brennan, Kaufmann is a musician who combines many disparate styles into a postmodern concoction, unrepentant in its eclecticism but impressive in its musicality.
Many of the pieces here, such as "The Last Vestiges," "Space Usually Given Over to Knives," and "Landscape Faux-naif," are brief improvisations, character pieces that present a particular textural environment (trills, cascading runs, an undulating bass ostinato, etc.) and then depart, sometimes almost before its totality has been aurally assimilated. More developed and particularly impressive is "Marche B2," which juxtaposes a post bop right hand with scampering sepulchral bass runs. Even this simply fades away without true resolution, but it is a wild ride while it lasts. Next time out, it would be interesting to hear Kaufmann create larger structures in his idiosyncratic musical language, as its rich components could certainly thrive in more expansive compositions. That said, Knives is an excellent sampling of a diverse array of sonic adventures and post-tonal bagatelles.
1- The Last Vestiges, 2- A Dreg of Red, 3- Your Smile a Stone, Shattering My Breath, 4- Dips and Proclivities, 5- More Than a Simple Shoreline, 6- Landscape Faux-naif, 7- Sheets Surfacing Like an Ocean, 8- Space Usually Given Over to Knives, 9-Her Hair a Dark River, 10- No Trace of Food, or Grief, 11- Four Small Rooms, 12- Marche B2,13- 2300 Skiddoo, 14- Heavy Lace, 15- Of Water Plants and Figurines, 16- Sand Melody, 17- Windows Composing Trees, 18- Beyond Which the Blue Trembles.
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