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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

John Tilbury – For Tomasz Sikorski (Bôłt, 2012) ****

By Daniel Sorrells

John Tilbury, high statesman of the New Music, has a touch on the piano like few others. For decades he’s been an essential fixture in both modern classical and improvised music, illuminating the works of greats like Feldman, Cage and Cardew, and pushing the boundaries of improvisation in AMM. For Tomasz Sikorski dabbles in a bit of both.

For Tomasz Sikorski is just that—an homage to the Polish minimalist composer, with three interpretations of his piano works and an improvisation in tribute. Tilbury and Sikorski studied together in the 1960s, though they never again crossed paths before Sikorski’s death in 1988. A pianist himself, Sikorski’s compositions are deceptively simple, often featuring recurring figures with large rests between sections. Though structurally different and maybe a bit more deliberate, these pieces are very much in the spirit of Erik Satie: melancholy, beautiful, even a bit disorienting. The central motif in “Rondo” feels like wandering in a dream.

“Zertstreutes Hinausschauen,” the earliest piece included, boasts dizzying alternations of pitches and dynamics, creating the illusion the piano is panning from one side of the listening field to the other. Suddenly, the pattern drops, and as the last deep notes are still dying out, a few delicate notes ring out, like bright stars being gently placed against the resounding dark. Tilbury’s long improvisation is perhaps the sparest, moodiest inclusion. It’s quiet, shadowy, all deep, resonant thumps and ghostly undercurrents. But, after a few minutes, in a perfect Tilbury moment, he touches upon a woozily dissonant cluster of notes that encapsulates all that we’ve learned about Sikorski from the previous performances. In three perfect notes, Tilbury cuts to the heart of Sikorski’s music.

As I finish writing, the world outside is slowly being buried in drifts of white snow. It seems cliché to link music to weather or landscapes, to assign “perfect” soundtracks.  I’ll simply say it’s a collection of moments that feel right. My only complaint is that, at a mere 35 minutes, For Tomasz Sikorski doesn’t allow them to linger nearly long enough.

© stef