NEUMANN / SEHNAOUI / THIEKE / VORFELD
Andrea Neumann inside piano, mixing desk
Sharif Sehnaoui guitar
Michael Thieke clarinet
Michael Vorfeld percussion
I had noticed albums from Al Maslakh Records of Beirut in discographies & searches before, where I could sometimes see the distinctive graphic sense of label editor Mazen Kerbaj, but it was only recently that I decided to take the opportunity to listen: The label's most recent offering, Nashaz, was recorded in Berlin in February 2015, and features an improvising quartet of Andrea Neumann (b.1968; inside piano), Sharif Sehnaoui (guitar), Michael Thieke (b.1971; clarinet) & Michael Vorfeld (percussion). As the recording location, not to mention the presence of three German performers, suggests, Nashaz adopts important aspects from the Berlin scene, particularly from its more minimalist pole focused on detailed sonic interplay. However, as reflected in part by some Arabic titles — and the album title itself means "dissonant" — there is also a worldly & sophisticated sense of expression that seems to take us beyond any particular realm of sonic experimentation. Although Sehnaoui (who is new to me) has appeared on other Al Maslakh records, it is Thieke who is credited with making the recording. (I had mentioned Thieke in this space back in July 2013, but only incidentally. He also appears on the recent Because life should be so wonderful (I) on Malaysian label Herbal International, the second of a four-part series composed by Paed Conca, this entry featuring Japanese vocalist Maki Hachiya in a quartet with three clarinetists, recorded in Bern & mixed in Beirut. The album mostly constructs a world of shifting high pitches, with occasional melodic figures or harmonic outbursts.) It's possible I had heard Neumann previously, although her recorded output is not very large: She takes working inside the piano to the extreme, dispensing entirely with the outside, so as to leave something of a rigid harp. I've mentioned Vorfeld a couple of times in the past eighteen months, first as part of the percussion quintet Glück, and then regarding Sieben entrückte Lieder with Gratkowski & Richard Scott. Nashaz itself opens with a quiet hum & some offbeat banging, with a minimalist atmosphere often leading into denser textures. Indeed, it might be time to come up with a different term to describe the sorts of atonal textures derived from minimalist explorations but deployed in a non-minimal way. (We are not in a realm of repeated piano chords here.) It is perhaps the immanent character of Thieke's clarinet interaction, projecting a strong sense of breath, but within an ensemble texture that consists largely of struck or plucked notes, that is the most distinctive aspect of the sound of Nashaz — differing markedly from e.g. the previously discussed In Layers, on which the trumpet often soars above the texture. The sense of breath infuses the entire album with a kind of ritual calm that in turn intensifies the stakes of the interaction. Whereas Nashaz is mostly acoustic, the acts of pickup & mixing have not disappeared from the production, and so there is a bit of an electronic quality (as there truly always is with a recording), maybe even with a bit of an industrial edge: Indeed, in many ways Anomonous & its sophisticated contrabass clarinet & hyperpiano interaction is my most ready sonic reference, although there the result has a heavier sound, less subtle, and with some "normal" piano playing at times. Another comparison from this space is Whitewashed with lines, with its careful textural unfolding & processual creation of another landscape — and indeed Rhodri Davies has appeared on Al Maslakh, on the album Bricolage. Another clear reference, likewise overflowing the Berlin scene, one might say, is Spill Plus, a quieter album with a similar urge to vibrate (and the Spill duo also appeared on Al Maslakh, with the 2010 album Stockholm Syndrome — which I likewise did not register until after making the sonic connection). Perhaps I should mention Sediment as well, given its quasi-impersonal sense of calm & breath. Although I keep mentioning notions of calmness, the opening (title) track actually comes off (without contradiction) as a profound meditation on the ubiquity of trauma — an interpretation I'm basing "only" on my own thoughts & feelings while listening, although perhaps supplemented by the title — i.e., on the violence inherent (at a deep level) to life & existence themselves. The opener is also the longest track, but there is much else to hear: The even-numbered tracks are shorter, more gestural ("fluctuating"), with a kind of composite gonging emerging in the first, and alien bent chimes in the second. The longer middle track is perhaps the most prominent for guitar (and for a bit of an electronic quality), and follows an assertive, high-pitched opening with a strong sense of momentum (derived from a sort of hocket): One might take the curving curve of its title to be the clinamen. The final track builds a resonant echo that seems to arrive (after much activity) at a foggy seaport, and so ends by implying the start of a world voyage (sonically reminiscent of e.g. Sens radiants, as discussed here in August 2014) — and by its title, such a voyage becomes/comes from an oblique burning. (That sounds familiar somehow.) As noted, the clarinet remains an immanent part of a quietly splattering, percussive landscape that evokes the broader world in a number of registers — from the muffled yet precise industrial rumbling of strummed piano strings to distant tribal rhythmic becoming. As opposed to recent themes (in this space) of water, the interaction never does liquefy — one might say that it remains solidly human even as it deindividuates. Again, there are a number of albums that employ (at least superficially) similar sounds & approaches, so what makes Nashaz stand out to my ears? Is it anything real (e.g. transferable)? There's no tangible link to my work with Arabic classical music, for instance, but there is an analogous humanity. At some point, then, I just have to trust my own sensibility, and relate that even after several hearings, I continue to feel engaged & refreshed by this album.
Spielen auf sicherem Terrain. Diese Worte könnte man ganz gut über das Album Nashaz stellen. Die Aufnahmen dazu entstanden 2015 im Berliner ausland. Neben den drei deutschen Musiker*innen Andrea Neumann, Michael Thieke und Michael Vorfeld spielt der libanesische Gitarrist Sharif Sehnaoui (u.a. „A“ Trio). Veröffentlicht wurde dieses Album nun auf dem libanesischen Label Al Maslakh; das färbige Layout dazu stammt von Mazen Kerbaj, das Innendesign von Vorfeld. Das Quartett kreierte ohne Zweifel ein solides Improvisationsalbum, darüber kommen sie aber nicht hinaus. So einen richtigen Zug spürt man innerhalb der fünf Stücke keinen. Die vier Musiker lassen sich gegenseitig meistens soviel Platz, dass sie sich öfters in ihren Aktionen selbst zu verlieren scheinen. Momente, die zum Aufhorchen einladen, sind spärlich gesät, und wenn diese Auftreten, scheinen sie im nächsten Moment wieder wie verflogen zu sein. Auch die Klangkombinationen innerhalb des Ensembles versprechen nichts Neues. Die erste Nummer, die dem Album zugleich seinen Namen gibt, ist die längste mit 21 Minuten. Die Musiker sind hier an den Kleinigkeiten dran mit Bedacht und ohne Hast. Aufmerksames Hören ist hier von Nöten, denn ansonsten verpasst man viele Aktionen, die sich im Hintergrund abspielen, wie leise Becken- oder Klarinettenklänge. An manchen Stellen ist alles so dicht, dass die Instrumente gegenseitig verschwimmen und man nur mehr Schlieren wahrnimmt, quasi Ölschlieren auf einer Wasserfläche. Nach einem kurzen Intermezzo-Stück mit dem Titel Schwankung I folgt Kurve gekratzt. Neumann spielt hier zu Beginn mit elektronischen Klängen und Feedbacks, deren Energie alle mitzureißen scheint. Die Musik zerfällt aber nach kurzer Zeit und driftet wieder ins eigene Versinken ab. Hier ginge sicher noch so einiges.
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