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Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Matthew Bourne / Emil Karlsen – The Embalmer (Relative Pitch, 2022) ****

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

I have become a fan of Emil Karlsen’s work through the traditional way. Recording by recording, slowly listening, getting attached to the music and trying to figure it out. I really like his attitude and approach towards the drums plus that his percussion style (if we can say something about that in improvisation) really satisfies my needs as a listener of improvised music. There’s a lot of feeling and less thinking in his play. I think at least…

Matthew Bourne is a newcomer to me as a (sic) reviewer but less as a listener. In the not so distant past, I’ve really enjoyed his work with Tony Bevan and Paul Dunmall. Coming to think about it, I’ve always considered his playing as balancing quite well between the jazz tradition and the needs of improvisation.

But what are those needs anyway? Do they consist of certain preconceived ideas of what improvisation “is” - in the present tense? As there should not exist, by definition, a pattern for improvisational music, I have no clear answer to that, not one, at least, that concerns you, the reader, right now, except from what the two musicians allow us to perceive.

Even though The Embalmer was recorded in one session in 2020, there’s never the feeling of something left out, of anything that repeated playing could add. To return to the aforementioned question (what improvisation is in the field of here and now), I strongly believe that one of the answers is about the feeling of it. Something that the The Embalmer provides.

I could honestly comment that as a empirical reviewer with limited technical knowledge, a drums-piano duo poses questions that my limited knowledge cannot help me comprehend. So, I tend to rely on experiencing feelings. And by listening repeatedly to the six tracks of this CD, I feel like it was urgently needed for both of them. I felt a lot of aggression in their playing, some frustration maybe, pathos and energy. A struggle to find a shared language, not the one of two solos going their parallel ways, but a unified connection.

As I already mentioned, I really enjoyed, again in The Embalmer, Karlsen’s playing. His focus on detail really intrigues me, as he is shying away from using the drum kit as just a rhythmic device. The big surprise came from Bourne’s playing. Even though his touch on the keyboard always produced aggressive, full of energy results, behind all this there’s a constant thread, throughout all six tracks of the recording, of an ambience. It felt as almost a second pianist was present providing the overtone of a minimal ambient approach.

Suffice to say that Relative Pitch has nailed it again, presenting us a recording that pushes the envelope a little bit more. Definitely one of the best labels today and, most importantly, one that, with its wide ranging catalogue, provides us the listeners with new ideas, while defying any preconception of a certain sound.