Kapital Band 1 - Internationale Solidarität [Ni VU NI CONNU - 2020]This is an intriguing set-up: ‘robot controlled grand piano’ and drums - a definite rarity. These tools, wielded by Nicholas Bussmann and Martin Brandlmayr respectively, are used to create two long (twenty minute plus) tracks of unorthodox improvisation. Internationale Solidarität comes on smart looking vinyl, but I’m reviewing a digital version here.
Sometimes, when a recording has a prominent technological presence or premise, the album’s textual element makes such an overbearing argument for the importance or novelty of the technology that the recordings themselves almost become secondary - even redundant. Here, however, I’ll admit that I’d have liked more information on the robot controlled piano and how it precisely works. We do have the recordings, though, which suggest that the piano is controlled in real-time - midi? I’m a luddite here… - with the possibility to lock it into loops. So, following on from this, Internationale Solidarität often features Bussmann’s piano in a rhythmic role, with Brandlmayr’s drums adding texture, colour, and accents. Interestingly, the duo largely resist the urge/opportunity to use the piano to enter hyper-manic or complex territories beyond a human player’s physical capabilities; indeed, there are passages where the piano simply marks out a minimal, metronomic rhythm, and certainly the tracks lean towards a lack of density - there are few attempts to overwhelm the listener. However, there is often a severe kineticism on display, with Brandlmayr dancing around their kit in a blur. The piano is generally deployed ‘straight’ but there are sections where it is clearly ‘prepared’.
One effective feature of the album is the deliberate, short gaps scattered throughout the two pieces (though concentrated in the first); it’s unclear whether these are conscious pauses, or whether the tracks are merely collages, but I would hope they are organic, disciplined rests, with the duo leaving one idea behind and starting the exploration of another. There is definitely a concentrated understanding between the duo, and this results in lurching dances, abstract passages that explore sound, jazzy sections - the end of the first track has a weight suggestive of Coltrane’s ‘classic’ quartet - and even a part that verges on an odd techno feel. Away from these there are engaging interplays that are just plain fine, like the mid-section of the second piece which really builds and coalesces.
Even ignoring the unusual technological element - which still remains a mystery to me! - Internationale Solidarität is an pleasing album; on paper, a piano/drums duo could appear restrictive, but the set-up is stretched in several directions here, rarely resting but also exploring with rigour. It’s not an album of cheap delights, and it does demand close listening, but I’ve also enjoyed cranking it up and revelling in the percussive power of it. I always enjoy recordings of improvising duos, and this is a solid addition to that list.Martin P