Achim Kaufmann's first solo piano disc is a study in atonal expressionism and sonic adventurism, draped in dark mysteries. Recorded mainly at the Bimhuis in the pianist's home city of Amsterdam, Knives consists of eighteen fairly short pieces that showcase Kaufmann's technical excellence, his aptitude for instant orchestration, his imaginative use of "mixed techniques" (ie. prepared piano), and his firm yet idiosyncratic grasp of jazz piano tradition.
One cannot but admire the discipline of his left-hand bass lines on "A Dreg of Red" and "Marche B2," or his elliptical use of tonality on "More Than a Simple Shoreline" and the closing thirty seconds of "Sheets Surfacing Like an Ocean." Only six of the pieces entail mixed techniques, but their aural and emotive range is broadfrom the muted percussivism of "Dips and Proclivities" to the whooshing and scraping of "Heavy Lace," the Zen-like calm of "Space Usually Given Over to Knives," and the pinging, Eastern-tinged high notes of "Sand Melody." In his liner notes, Greg Buium lists some of Kaufmann's tools: a plastic ruler, fingers, a sander, and a piano-tuning wedge, among other things.
There is a rich contrast and a good deal of overlap between Kaufmann's abstract sound art and his more "traditional" pieces. One hears it in the jump from "Her Hair a Dark River," with its crescendoing knocks and groans, to the stately yet obscure harmonies of "No Trace of Food, or Grief" and "Four Small Rooms." But the most striking departure is a seven-minute reading of "2300 Skidoo" by Herbie Nichols. Beginning with staccato jabs and harsh clusters, Kaufmann eases into the swinging melody gradually, using tempo as one dramatic device among many. His right-hand tremolos and neo-stride reference points make clear that this "out" player can access "in" at any moment.
Track Listing: The Last Vestiges; A Dreg of Red; Your Smile a Stone, Shattering My Breath; Dips and
Proclivities; More Than a Simple Shoreline; Landscape Faux-Naïf; Sheets Surfacing Like an
Ocean; Space Usually Given Over to Knives; Her Hair a Dark River, And in Its Depths Ghosts
and Goblins; No Trace of Food, Or Grief; Four Small Rooms; Marche B2; 2300 Skiddoo;
Heavy Lace; Of Water Plants and Figurines; Sand Melody; Windows Composing Trees;
Beyond Which the Blue Trembles.