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Thursday, February 23, 2023

Kaja Draksler & Susana Santos Silva - Grow (Intakt, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

Within the first minute of the opening “Moonrise”, Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler and Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva have established themselves as the most compellingly weird improvising duo in contemporary music. Draksler is playing an erratic pattern on what sounds like a de-tuned toy piano. It’s somehow at once repetitious and varied with gong-like sounds interspersed. Santos Silva is creating a choked, quavering sound that seems less a trumpet than a strangling creature, possibly alien. Possibly alien? The first time I played this, things were suddenly going on and I was barely listening, not even half-listening, and I thought there was also a tape playing in the piece, a strangely alien, pitch-distorted tape of vocal music, some odd Asian opera accompanied by insistent quarter-tone keyboards, some interference pattern picked up from somewhere in the vast near-empty steppes available on globe-hopping internet radio (It used to work—today I’ve reached Nizhny Tagil, enthusiastic commercials in Russian and Fat Boy Slim’s “Rockefeller Skank” from Fifa99). Heard again, repeatedly, “Moonrise” was still mysterious, but it’s trumpet and piano, prepared and miked.

'Grow', a 41-minute performance from the 2021 Copenhagen Jazz Festival, creates its own sonic world. To describe it as a duo seems like a disservice. There’s nothing particularly conversational about it, no sense of piano accompaniment, no dividing line between composed and improvised. Rather, its four segments are stages in a dream voyage, one compound mind creating complex, unified music at an exalted level with constantly shifting timbres. That opening “Moonrise” will turn to limpidly beautiful lyric trumpet amid cascading chromatic piano; the next stage, “Close”, will have circular-breathing, Morse-code trumpet with a refracted sub-text, the piano eventually revealing itself in crystalline high pitches with electronic echo and suggestions of glockenspiel and drum, the trumpet becoming the sound of rhythmic air, with what sounds like someone walking cautiously on piano strings.

Liquid Rock” demonstrates the trumpet’s simultaneously empathetic relationship with mining equipment and rock, assuming a great industrial roar with overblown multiphonics, eventually matched with rapid, sustained, keyboard knitwork. The concluding title track moves through various transformations, including a passage of Harmon-muted trumpet that suggests Miles Davis and which is set against e-bowed piano string tones that sound like Draksler is sometimes employing an oscillator, at other times rustling through the contents of a kitchen miscellany drawer after having first transferred them to the piano’s interior.

No description can do more than suggest the depth and complexity of this cumulative work, in which extended techniques are not effects but organic methodologies plumbing new regions of meaning and expression.

Listen and download from Bandcamp.