Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Borah Bergman & Frode Gjerstad

Loosely keeping the German theme going is this very Free Music Produktion-esque offering. One of the things I like about reviewing is drawing on my enthusiasm and experiences for and of this music. That's why I always try to offer a personal insight into anything I write about - note the reference to a performance at the Vision Festival here. Whether or not people agree with my perspectives is another thing, but ultimately all any of us have to offer are competing perspectives. My hope is that mine add something to peoples' understanding of the subject.

Enough pontification - a preview of the 2008 Pro-Doping season is long over due, and I'll probably put one together before the weekend...

Rivers In Time
FMR RECORDS (CD 130-i0803)

Exuberation; Dark Passage; Rivers Of Time; Memory Of Gil Evans; Trolls Part I; Red Jets; Trolls Part II; For Camilla Sorvik.

Frode Gjerstad (as, cl, bcl); Borah Bergman (p).
Recorded March to October 2002.

Philip Clark’s review in last month’s issue went a long way in describing the singularly unique soundworld of Borah Bergman. For my part I would simply add the caveat that his unique strengths can also at times be his biggest weakness. I remember, for example, hearing his first recorded ‘duets’ with Thomas Chapin (‘Inversions’, Muworks), where the saxophonist could find no point of entry into Bergman’s all-consuming soundworld and only flail indeterminately on the margins. I also recall an extraordinary gig at the Vision Festival in New York some four or five years ago, where Bergman’s musical partners (Roscoe Mitchell and Thomas Buckner) actually stopped playing for long periods to protest at the pianist’s undisciplined outpourings, the tensions on the bandstand palpable to everybody in the room.

Perhaps not the best of collaborators then, it’s true that drummers prepared to follow him to the sun often fare better. Norwegian reedsman Frode Gjerstad is an intrepid explorer clearly unfazed by another encounter with the human player-piano, happy to accept the challenge of the gauntlet, and even bold enough to dictate the flow of their exchanges. The first ten minutes of ‘Rivers In Time’, however, are Bergman’s alone , and they illustrate his two-handed-avant-stride pianism to good advantage.

Trying to nail down logic and structure to the rapid turnover of ideas is somewhat like trying to catch rainwater in a bucket - some hits, most goes wide. To fully absorb his torrential data flow may take attentive listeners years. Gjerstad finally makes his entry on ‘Dark Passage’, which contains some of the most controlled and reflective playing I’ve heard from Bergman. Fragile beauty precariously poised on the edge of violence, it is all the better for never quite exploding. The 13 minute titletrack is as bruising an encounter as you could wish, but there is nevertheless a real musical dialogue. ‘Memory of Gil Evans’, a reflective solo piece, is another high spot, but ‘Red Jets’ is an artless and frankly tiresome energy blast.

Neither player breaks new ground on “Rivers In Time’, but whilst instant composition, a thoroughly tried and tested approach with its own conventions, may be generally struggling to attain past glories, this recommended new release at least restores some quality.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, February 2004)

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