Three recently released Improv CDs

Improvised music takes many forms these days and the range of music is as broad as is contemporary jazz. The three CDs reviewed below illustrate this very effectively.

improtestVarious Artists – Improtest (Improtest Records double CD): The Improtest double album documents the fifth and sixth sessions of Improtest, an improvised music series run in Tallinn, Estonia. The recordings date from 2011 and 2012 and feature improvisers from Estonia, USA, Finland, Denmark and Russia. The series is curated by Mart Soo and Taavi Kerikmae, both from Estonia. With the exception of Estonian guitarist Jaak Sooaar, all the names are new to me.

The music presented is definitely improvised music without any trace of jazz. With the exception of Track 1 on CD1 all the groups are small, with mostly solo and duo performances plus a couple of trio tracks. The focus is on creating interesting sounds and interaction between these, rather than melody, harmony or rhythm, and various performances make extensive and effective use of electronics. With the various configurations of the players and the move between acoustic and electronic sounds, there is a lot of interesting variety in the music.

It is excellent that these concerts have been documented, but this is music that I prefer to listen to in a live setting rather than sitting down to concentrate on a recording.

race-with-timeEmilie Girard-Charest & Mart Soo – Race With Time (Improtest Records): This is a duo album with cellist Emilie Girard-Charest and guitarist Mart Soo, who curated the Improtest series reviewed above. The music is essentially in the same vein as the Improtest double CD; it is totally improvised with a similar focus on interesting sounds and the interaction between the cello, guitar and electronics.

The CD features just the two players, but we get quite a range of music with different approaches to improvisation on the 17 tracks. This makes it a varied listening experience, but I have to admit that nonetheless I found it a hard listen. Again, I think I would have enjoyed it more in a live context.

every-hour-of-the-lightChristian Weidner – Every Hour Of The Light And Dark (Pirouet Records): The CD features a quartet led by German alto-saxophonist Christian Weidner with Achim Kaufmann on piano, Henning Sieverts on bass and Samuel Rohrer on drums. There are eight tracks all linked thematically with a clear mood in the music, which comes from the development of an idea Weidner sketched some years ago. The sketch has, to quote Weidner himself, “a melancholy theme akin to a prayer that draws you in, trance-like, rapturous, like a consecration”.

This gentle, prayer-like feel pervades the album and, while I welcome this more contemplative approach to jazz, I feel that this CD, in marked contrast to the two Improtest CDs reviewed above, presents music that is really for listening to and absorbing in quiet contemplation at home rather than in a live context. In other words, I’m not sure how that same mood could be captured completely in a concert with an audience.

This is not to suggest that the music is other than excellent. It moves between themes and free improvisation that draws on melody, and the interaction between four excellent players is constantly full of interest and thought provoking.

Categories: CD review

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