Bridge over the X-Stream
Leo / CDLR288
Steve Cohn / piano, shakuhachi, hichiriki, shofar, percussion, Reggie Workman / bass, percussion, Jason Hwang / violin, Tom Varner / French horn
Steve Cohn cuts an eccentric figure, at least on paper, with his blend of alternate music theory and Haight-Ashbury philostophising. It’s certainly an eccentric choice for a multi-instrumentalist to pick piano as his main instrument when the group is working so heavily with microtones, yet somehow this often sparse but mostly jazzy chamber improv works extraordinarily well.
The group, under Cohn’s direction, appear to be working with a notion of microtonality which does away with specific pitch structures entirely and opens up the whole continuum of frequencies for musical use. That sounds like old news untile your hear the CD, which makes a nice distinction between pitch and timbre, distancing this sound-world from that of, say, most London-based improvisors who mangle their pitches and their articulations to create amn entirely non-legitimate technique.
Instead, the members of the quartet play their noites pretty straight, and here’s part of the attraction of the piano for Cohn. The idea seems to be to create complexity from freeing up just one parameter — pitch — and making it do all the work. It’s successful the way that many of Mat Maneri’s projects are: in other words, it has a disciplined kind of freedom which provokes wonderful inventiveness from its participants.
All four are, of course, pretty bankable names in the American hinterland between jazz and Euro-improv. Workman is perhaps worthy of particular mention for the way he takes his rubbery bass and steps purposefully through the minefield of notes around him, but the real pleasure here is the way the quartet as a whole seems to understand the point of this particular musical game and participates to the full.
This is a disk of purely improvised quartet music which, while having a great deal in common with what tends to be referred to as “European Free Improvisation”, is really jazz — Varner even quotes “So What” on track 2, as if to prove it. It’s cool but bristly stuff, and sometimes seems to rush forwards with hardly eny notes at all. Highly recommended. Richard Cochrane