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Debate might rage over the suitability of any given instrument to solo performance, but Peter Kowald's Open Secrets presents the sound of a formidable technician without letting that dubious asset get in the way of musical expression. The results are compelling.
Calling Kowald a stalwart of the free music community is both helpful and inadequate. He has committed himself to that means of musical expression for decades, and this recitalthe program has all the hallmarks of a recital about it without any of the formal connotationswas recorded some 21 years ago. He exploits not only the double-bass' standard vocabulary but also extraneous noises too, making for a compact statement of its potential as a solo instrument. On "El Mismo Rio," the instrument is transformed through his bowing into something not of European origin but without any implications other than that of a singular musical mind at work. Hints of a train of thought in that regard crop up on the following "Welt Um (Wale)," where barely audible sounds produced by artful bowing hint at nothing conventional. It is however but a snapshot at less than a minute and thirty seconds, suggesting an idea abandoned because its moment passed quickly.
When he plucks, Kowald suggests ideas coming at an extraordinary rate, symbolic perhaps of the free player in company as opposed to solo. His jagged but coherent lines on the opening "Peek At World" could very easily be the kind of thing he would come up with as a voice in a group, with an additional flavor of relishing the silence that would exist but for his efforts. The resulting music is at one and the same time both clinical, in a deeply involved way, and intimate in the degree to which it affords the listener evidence of a mind at work.
The measure of continuity between that piece and "Watu Wote" is not just down to Kowald's fingers. Instead there is an exceptional impression of the long idea spontaneously formed, a train of thought seen through to its destination which, whilst it certainly isn't final, happens to mark a staging post on a journey outside of the scope of time.
Track Listing: Peek At World; Languages Differentes; Vita Povera - Arte No; El Mismo Rio; Welt Um (Wale); Open Secrets; Watu Wote; Archaion Mellon; Ima Samu Dessu (Mi Tsu Ni).
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.