Improvised Music: The Zen Master, the Samurai Warrior and the Air Spirit

Music that doesn’t sound like music. That is the declared idea that drives Jakob Bro. Or is it just made up of words that can’t be made to make sense? After all, apart from a phantasm, what should music consist of that doesn’t sound like music? Every attempt at implementation thrives on the contradiction that every note would have to be extinguished again immediately – as if it were a forbidden step into a reality that should rather remain in the realm of possibilities.

In the Pierre Boulez Saal, the test sounds so ethereal that one would like to use the metaphor of the otherworldly. But of course the music of the Danish guitarist takes place in the here and now, with fixed pitches and definable colors. Nevertheless, the first, freely improvised hour in the duo with the Japanese percussionist Midori Takada is immersed in an otherworldly, ceremonial twilight from which this music does not want to wake up: It shies away from nothing more than development or ideas.

With her instruments, an electric guitar that has become almost unrecognizable due to effect devices, and a theatrically staged arsenal of drums, gongs and a marimba, she is looking for a way back to pure sound. In an unbroken euphony, her steadily beating heart clatters back into a kind of prenatal state.

In the semicircle of the pool course

The 70-year-old Midori Takada takes the lead. Bros pull, hover and gyro sounds fit into the singing of their singing bowl. He sets tiny motifs against their repetitive marimba patterns, which never sound dissonant even in the most dissonant intervals due to their sheer stretching. And when she scurries as a samurai warrior with mallets for swords through the semicircle of her cymbal course distributed in the hall, he lets her do it all alone.

After a life as a classical musician, which also led her to the RIAS Symphony Orchestra, today’s DSO, she sought liberation in world music and threw herself into the minimal music of Terry Riley and Steve Reich. The re-release of her album Through the Looking Glass (1983) brought her late fame as an ambient pioneer.

Jakob Bro was also someone else once. As a trained jazz musician, he played with Paul Motian and Tomasz Stanko before leaving any immediate virtuosity behind. He could now be called the quietest guitarist in the world if the activist clicking of switches and buttons didn’t call into question the zen-like calm of his playing.

After the break, there was significantly more movement and inner communication, not only due to the line-up expanded to a quartet with cellist Anja Lechner and trumpeter Arve Henriksen, but also due to compositional islands in the improvisation. In Takada’s place, percussionist Marilyn Mazur sweeps through the hanging gardens of her bronze treasures. She even creates moments of jazz grooves on a drum set designed for playing standing up. Only Jakob Bro stays in the background.

With half-depressed valves

Most melodically present is Henriksen, and not because the trumpet would give him an advantage in terms of loudness. Under his approach, the three instruments of different sizes, which he sometimes plays with and sometimes without a mouthpiece, turn more into flutes. The game with half-depressed valves gives the whole thing a fascinating matt shine.

He has studied the Japanese shakuhachi for years, and in orientalizing passages one thinks of the Turkish-Persian ney. But this is not about imitation, but about a sound painting in which Henriksen’s air spirit trumpet, sometimes electronically expanded to two voices, sometimes merges with Lechner’s cello.

Something static still clings to this music, which, however, already shows recognizable transitions in the gentle swell and ebb. In its inward and outward openness, it could expand indefinitely, constantly changing.

Music that doesn’t sound like music: You can certainly no longer say that about this quartet (which should actually include trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg). Because the threshold of a quasi-natural world of sound, which arises with a similar, unconscious naturalness as the wind or the singing of birds, is far exceeded here.

What she shares with her is at most that one likes to stay in her mild climate for a while. Until you, tired of your mild springtime, hope that at some point a storm will come, thunder and lightning will rage, the earth will rip open under a downpour and dragons will climb to the surface. Gregor Dotzauer

By Editor

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