09 February 2018

Hand of the free

From organs and early music through to experimental improv. Wow! Extreme. This was one workshop that preceded SoundOut. The performers were a duo that had played together for 20 years, Swedish pianist Sten Sandell and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilsen-Love. They started with a relatively short improv and it was stunning. The Steinway helped as it sounded so, so good under Sten's hands. I can find noise-play rather trivial, and it was a large content of the Q&A session, but their playing was richly informed, outrageously atonal but utterly convincing. Both had a rich a history in other musical forms, classical, jazz, rock/pop, but ended here. Both listen to all manner of musics. I enjoyed their interplay but cherished the rich and expansive atonality and their underlying sense of beat. There were plays with sound, plucked strings and harmonics and pedal plays and scraped cymbals but with purpose. Fabulous but too short. The workshop had questions on form, preparations and piano pedals, compositions, influence of audience, this music and venues (eg, jazz clubs and managers), the seeming "contradiction" of recording this music, practice, having fun, being clear in performance, listening. I found it unsatisfying that the discussion about practice and learning this style just assumed that you "know your instrument". I thought this was what the practice was for. And interestingly but perhaps not unsurprising, Sten said he doesn't perform with an e-piano. That must limit venues these days, but this is a special art with its requirements and listeners. Then the workshop. We formed a circle for exercises, passing sounds one to another and, most interestingly, all following or responding to the lead of one player. It was here we got a feel of the effectiveness of this style. But what wonderful playing from these two, atonal and polyrhythmic and the rest but with deep references and the most satisfying and convincing free improv.

Sten Sandell (piano) and Paal Nilsen-Love (drums) have a workshop for SoundOut 2018.

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