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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Four Duos of Pianist Elisabeth Harnik

By Eyal Hareuveni

Austrian, classically-trained pianist Elisabeth Harnik loves the duo format. In recent years she toured and recorded with double bass master Joëlle Léandre, trombonist Steve Swell, and reeds player Frank Gratkowski. Her recent duos focus on meetings with distinct drummers-percussionists (and one lloopp software player), all highlighting her deep listening dialogs, her qualities as improvisers and spontaneous composer, and her rich and nuanced language.

Andrea Centazzo & Elisabeth Harnik – Duophonic Landscape (Klanggalerie, 2020) ****½ 

Harnik recorded Duophonic Landscape with Italian-born American composer-percussionist- multimedia artist and the Ictus record label founder Andrea Centazzo at a winery dug in a rock in Gorizia in Northern Italy in 2019. Both Harnik and Centazzo are well-versed with contemporary music and both are experienced in free-improvised meetings, and both have developed idiosyncratic languages. Centazzoo uses an array of about 200 percussion instruments - many of them are cymbals and gongs, and the latest models of digital percussion linked to the computer. Harnik uses the whole piano - keyboards, strings and its wooden body, as her playground.

The seven, distinct parts of Duophonic Landscape offer mysterious, imaginative and detailed improvisations. These improvisations enjoy the unique acoustics of the winery and explore ideas from exotic rituals and sonorities, expansive modern forms and engaging free improvisation, but never losing its focus and its refined sense of using the process of improvisation as means for spontaneous composition. Harnik often uses the piano as a percussive instrument that extends the sonic palette of the percussion instruments of Centazzo. Centazzo employs his sampler to introduce, suggestive, cinematic narratives, especially on the third part of Duophonic Landscape. In the fifth part, Harnik and Centazzo suggest a delicate and highly resonating, meditative texture that blossoms into a beautiful and gentle melody.

Trombonist Steve Swell, who recorded a duo with Harnik (Tonotopic Organizations, Fundacja Słuchaj!, 2020) ‎and in a quartet With Centazzo (Latecomers, Ictus, 2013), observes in his short liner notes that Duophonic Landscape is the “perfect antidote to another day in the confines of the Corona-Virus Blues”. He concludes: “the improvisations on this recording radiate with life and provide an expansive look into the deeper reaches of our minds”, and he is absolutely right.

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Elisabeth Harnik & Michael Zerang – Dream Disobedience (Not Two, 2021) ****

Harnik recorded a live concert with Chicagoan sax hero Dave Rempis and drummer Michael (Triple Tube, Not Two, 2020), a day after recording her duo with Zerang, Dream Disobedience. This album was recorded live at Španski Borci, Ljubljana, Slovenia in March 2019.

Dream Disobedience offers a totally different atmosphere to the piano-drummer-percussionist format. It distills a decade-long collaboration into a 35-minute reserved and introspective suite. Both Harnik and Zerang avoid conventional techniques and forms and rely on their inventive extended techniques - rubbing and attaching objects to the skins of the drums and bowing the cymbals or playing inside the piano and attaching resonant objects to the strings. Here Harnik and Zerang act as highly inventive sound artists who make full use of the wood, skin and metal sonic properties of their instruments, but always attentive to each other’s gestures and always letting the music flow in its own course and its own time. There are times in the first half of this suite when it is difficult to know who is doing what. Mid-piece Harnik and Zerang assume the roles of a pianist and a drummer and settle for a brief and intense free jazz duet, but soon return to their very own abstract and enigmatic, and sometimes even dreamy sound-oriented conversation.

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Elisabeth Harnik & Paal Nilssen-Love – Tangram (Catalytic Sound, 2020) ***½

, Harnik’s live duo with Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love was recorded at the Sugar Maple club in Milwaukee in June during the Okkafest. All proceeds from this album will go to the no-profit organization Stand by Me Lesvos, founded by Lesvos residents who have created a safe, positive space, where local Greeks, refugees and international team members are all working side by side, just a walking distance from the overcrowded Moria.

On Tangram, Harnik and Nilssen-Love assume the roles of free jazz pianist and drummer, employing the piano and the drum-set in more conventional manners, but, obviously, in a highly creative and powerful free-improvised setting. Harnik attempts to conceptualize the first piece “Flying Bird” as an instant composition, with a loose theme and structure, but the intense, free-flowing interplay with Nilssen-Love proves otherwise. Nilssen-Love takes the lead on the second 32-minute of “Lying Bird” and frames it first with intense and energetic sonic searches, but later visiting even abstract, resonant and noisy sonic territories, all with the same level of uncompromising energy. Harnik is a perfect partner to this kind of open-ended and inventive improvisation that demands constantly super-fast responses. Mid-piece she suggests a minimalist and lyrical melody that triggers a gentle and introspective abstraction by Nilssen-Love, but he knows how to bring this improvisation back to its fiery course and catalytic coda.

Elisabeth Harnik & Christof Kurzmann - Prozession (Catalytic Sound, 2021) ***½

Prozession is the exception in this series of duos. Harnik meets here fellow-Austrian, Viennese player of the lloopp software Christof Kurzmann for a live performance at Echoraum, Vienna in October 2020. Like Tangram, all proceeds from the sale of Prozession will go to an charity, in this case the Austrian charity Flüchtlingsprojekt Ute Bock ("Refugee Project Ute Bock") that offers free, supervised accommodations to asylum seekers.

Kurzmann expands the sonic spectrum of the piano with electronic magic sounds, injecting mysterious, resonant undercurrents to Harnik’s playing on the keyboard and inside the piano. Harnik responds immediately to Kurzmann’s sounds and creates again and again brief and abstract sonic storms that trigger, in their turn, more electronic abstractions by Kurzmann. This delicate negotiation of distinct and contrasting sonic options is going on throughout the 25-minute of ”Prozession I”. On the shortest, following piece Harnik and Kurzmann sound like some kind of twisted strings instrument players and offer a strange kind of noisy-chamber soundscape. ”Prozession III” suggests an intense, almost free jazz improvisation. ”Prozession IV” is an open-ended, poetic conversation between these imaginative sound artists. The last piece adds exotic and enchanting Far-Eastern sounds to this refined dialog.


Rui António said...

It's a pity that you can't hear an excerpt from the Andrea Centazzo & Elisabeth Harnik – Duophonic Landscape.