The cover of Greek composer/improvisor Panos Ghikas' Unrealtime
certainly piques the curiosity regarding the musical content within the grooves. The title provides just a whiff of a clue. The plot thickens with a perusal of the personnel, which reveals, that alongside Nick Roth
on alto and soprano saxophones and Luis Tabuenca on percussion, the leader handles 'unrealtime interface' and pianist Pavlos Antoniadis doubles on 'motion followers.' On this evidence alone it would not be unreasonable to expect technological and conceptual experimentation, which will instantly attract some and repel others without the need to drop the needle.
Since 2015 or so, London-based Ghikas has been diving deep into the improvisational language he calls unrealtime, exploring the nexus between real-time creativity and notated music, acoustic and digital sound, and between instinctive impulse and directed responses. The aim, beyond the journey itself, is to create an 'out-of-time' audio- collage that blurs notions of then and now. As may already be apparent, it is not intended as a casual listening experience. Recorded between 2016 and 2020, in both studio and live settings in London and Germany, this 27-minute EP reflects less a well-defined group aesthetic than a collective of the like-minded.
"He Piccoli Man" marries Roth's wild blowing and percussive accents. It sounds like Albert Ayler
played backwards, which as mad as that sounds, is exactly what Japanese free-jazz avant-gardists Now Music Ensemble did in the early 1970s, years before turntables were fashionable. Unreal time indeed. The percussive-oriented "Nausea" juxtaposes the organic textures of Tabuenca's kit with electronic manipulation. Silences rub shoulders with clumps of percussive patterns and runaway rhythms, like a behemoth of a machine from the distant past coughing and rattling into life.
Two piano miniatures featuring Antoniadis, "Just Hypogamy" and "Gum," veer between delicate minimalism and jagged abstraction. The frenetic romp that is "Azoman" pitches frenzied alto saxophone with measured, and by comparison, carefully plotted drum patterns. Antoniadis adds to the ordered chaos with angular piano clusters, Ghikas with seemingly random electronic punctuation. If Ghikas' violin is deployed it is well disguised in the folds of this sonic riot. Less tumultuous but no less playful, "Toxic Pregum" is a tale of two halvesa raggedy percussive discourse like a drunken flamenco dancer followed by abstract pianism. "Uphonem Ypsik" is a ninety-second fusion of the organic and the processed where Roth's squealing saxophone is the only clearly identifiable voice.
Is it necessary to understand Ghika's methodology in order to appreciate the performances? The answer is probably yes, though holding a degree in physics or a PHD in composition, as Ghikas does, may be an advantage. Those who confront this music head on, however, may well still decipher the logic in the midst of the seemingly random, and the playfulness behind Ghikas' conceptual art. A little arch for some tastes, perhaps, but recommended for improv heads and unbridled sonic explorers. Unreal stuff.
He Piccoli Man; Nausea; Just Hypogamy; Gum; Azoman; Toxic Pregum; Unphonem Ypsik.
Panos Ghikas: unrealtime interface; Pavlos Antoniadis: motion followers; Nick Roth: soprano saxophone.