Old and new. This new CD on Matchless by Sebastian Lexer and Christoph Schiller keeps bringing these opposite ends of a spectrum to mind. If Schiller has taken an old instrument, a spinet, and approached it in new ways, then so has Lexer, whose Piano+ digital enhancements of a standard grand piano are as exciting a new development to that instrument as I have seen in years. The music on Luftwurzeln then also spans across that same wide divide. Improvised music in London has been evolving for the best part of five decades now, but while some sounds close to the older roots of the music, some could be said to be trying for new ground, different approaches. The music here, which was recorded at the excellent As Alike As Trees Festival in the city a couple of years back could also be said to be straddling across the various decades of improv. Acoustic instrumentation at its most traditional meets digital processes even as they are still being developed. The warmth of a vibrating string meets itself mirrored back altered significantly by computer transformation. Keys sometimes depressed, at other times they sit untouched, bypassed my musicians leaning over them. Old ways of doing things meet new ways. There is one moment about ten minutes into Luftwurzeln when this hits me on every listen through. A quite loud section of deep booming tones and sweeping electronic transformations suddenly give way to near silence and then we hear that familiar old buzzing chime of a spinet note being struck, followed by some clean, unadorned piano notes. The use of extended techniques (both) and computer enhancement (Lexer) is a strong, central theme of these two musicians’ music together, but the origins of their instruments are not completely lost. The history is not completely trampled over. There is space in the music, plenty of room to breathe, time for sounds to decay, but also when it needs to the music spirals off into wonderfully detailed little passages and dramatic crescendoes.
I first heard this music as it was created, a few feet in front of me at the festival. I heard it again a few months back when Sebastian sent me an early draft of the recording. I have then played it maybe a dozen times since I received the released CD. It makes a good companion on the long drive to and from work each day. Its music I enjoy a great deal, and feel extremely close to. Like the first few improvisation albums I bought almost a couple of decades ago I have played the music so frequently it no longer feels improvised. These are two musicians that seem to hit it off exceptionally well. As well as being at the concert that spawned this recording I saw them somewhere else in London in the last year or two, and on each occasion they have seemed to fit together musically absurdly easily. Sebastian Lexer has a similar kind of relationship with another regular playing partner Seymour Wright, so perhaps he is just someone its easy to knit together with musically. Whatever it is, somehow this music just seems to flow effortlessly, and yet, having watched the duo strain and focus their concentration while making it, plenty of effort went into its creation. One comes back then to conclusion that these are simply very skilled, attentive listeners and musical thinkers working together. This isn’t an album I can easily put into a convenient sub genre. Its just a great example of really fine improvised music. If you really need further clarification, look approximately halfway between old and new.