Once improvisers reach a certain level of experience, it is rare that a meeting between them does not deliver the goods. By this stage they are well versed in the mechanics of collective music making off the map. They have developed a fine sense of when to play and when not, how much they can respond without it becoming predictable, and a host of other similarly arcane split-second decisions which happen faster than thought. But when masters of the art such as Swedish reedman Martin Kuchen, Catalan pianist Agusti Fernandez and Slovenian drummer Zlatko Kaućić combine, there is always likely to be an additional element of magic in the mix.
So it proves on The Steps That Resonate, a 38-minute concert including encore, recorded in 2021, at the BCMF Festival at Šmartno in Kaučič's homeland. The three enjoy an exchange of texture and timbre, which stretches the accepted sonic signatures of their instruments, and do so with invention and flair to make this a thrilling journey. The explosive start, a simultaneous crash from piano and percussion, shadowed by strangulated soprano saxophone, heralds a series of climaxes and lulls which veer from near inaudibility to roiling tumult, peppered with pauses whose silence only amplifies the overall impact.
Fernandez excels at shifting between abstract probing, a tolling bottom end and cascades which conjure the spirit of Cecil Taylor on the keys, and scrapes and bangs which extract unlikely resonances from inside the guts of the piano. Such percussive moments blend well with Kaučič who, with his assortment of cymbals, blocks, membranes and implements, proves well equipped to trade in convulsive clatter and tappy dialogue. But one of the things that elevates this set above the ordinary is the way in which Küchen introduces an emotional dimension into this rarefied atmosphere, courtesy of his bent note bleats, false-fingered cries, vocalized howls and anguished keening. Humor too, when he evokes the yelps of squeaky toys.
A short well-deserved encore accentuates the drama inherent in the spacious interaction of detail and gesture, and does so with admirable tension- building restraint, providing a pithy survey of the virtues of this grouping.
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