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Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Solo Piano Research of Søren Kjærgaard

By Eyal Hareuveni 

Danish, Copenhagen-based pianist-composer Søren Kjærgaard researched the concept of Multi-layeredness in Solo Performance at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen in the years 2016-2018. During his research project he has performed solo piano recitals and given talks on his research in Tokyo, Oslo, San Francisco, Zürich and Copenhagen. This research yielded two distinct solo piano albums.

Kjærgaard is known from his trio with double bass player Ben Street and drummer Andrew Cyrille, which has recorded four albums, his work with Danish multi-disciplinary artist Torben Ulrich (father of Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich), which has born three albums, and his free-improvised performance with Fred Frith, Koichi Makigami and Jakob Bro.

Søren Kjærgaard - Concrescence (Ik Music, 2019) **** 

Concrescence was recorded at The Village studio, Copenhagen, on 14-15 July 2017, and offers 18 introspective, concentrated micro-cosmoses that unfold in a dialogue between composition and improvisation, between concept and the immediacy of the moment. 

The short pieces point to the rich language Kjærgaard has developed and the diverse influences that shape his aesthetics, ranging from the iconoclastic ideas of Morton Feldman’s evocative minimalism, to the dense chord clusters of Henry Cowell and the indeterminacy of John Cage, to the contemporary voices of improvising, classical pianist Cory Smythe and contemporary composer Nico Muhly, known for his collaborations with Björk, Grizzly Bear and Glen Hansard. 

Kjærgaard weaves these distinct attitudes into a rich and highly personal thesis about the multi-layered potential of the solo piano format. He employs conventional and extended techniques as a mean to suggest a provocative yet subtle interplay between movements, speeds, textures and dynamics, as well as between avant-garde, scholastic innovations and more song-like but still experimental textures. Piece like the minimalist and exotic “Precipitations”, the lyrical ballad “From Ornette To Sun Ra By Way Of Miss Ann South” or the emotional homage to Cowell, “Bells for Henry,” capture best Kjærgaard's idiosyncratic language. 


Søren Kjærgaard - Live at Freedom Music Festival (Ilk Music, 2019) ****½

Live At Freedom Music Festival captures Kjærgaard performing at KoncertKirken, Copenhagen, on September 1st, 2017. It focuses on six extended improvisations, linked as a five movements suite, that explores a more extroverted and contrast-full use of the piano. 

The live format enables Kjærgaard to explore his deep interest in the tension between different experimental approaches and techniques of playing the solo piano, free-improvisation, and modern jazz. The “First and Second Movement” investigates Feldman-esque expressive, ethereal, and almost silent minimalism. “Third Movement” dives first deeper into the indeterminate, chance-based compositional ideas of John Cage and David Tudor, but later sketches basic rhythmic patterns. On these cerebral pieces Kjærgaard investigates the sonic timbral qualities of the piano, attentive to the singing potential of each tone. 

The last shorter three movements - “Fourth” through “Sixth” - connect the contemporary, experimental approaches with a great lineage of revolutionary jazz pianists. The dense tone clusters of Henry Cowell sound as part of the poetic aesthetics of Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley. The last, most lyrical and emotional “Sixth Movement” converges best Kjærgaard’s imaginative, spontaneous ideas of rhythmic flexibility, abstract minimalism and cantabile melodicism. 

And a litte more here.