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Saturday, February 25, 2023

Two from Zlatko Kaučič and his comrades

By Fotis Nikolakopoulos

Disorder at the Border plus Tobias Delius-Kataklisma (Fundacja Sluchaj!, 2022)

I must admit from the start that being a fan of Zlatko Kaučič's brings the compulsive side of myself up front. Always trying to find flaws, trying hard to minimize the impact of his work to me as a listener. You can understand, as you read these lines, that it’s a failure. Every time. The trio of Disorder at the Border consists of Kaučič at the drums and percussion, Giovanni Maier playing the bass and Daniele D’ Agaro on the clarinet and sax. On Kataklisma they are joined by the imaginative playing of Tobias Delius on tenor sax and clarinet.

The Polish label Fundacja Sluchaj! has been constantly revitalizing the European improv scene. But what’s most important, at least to my ears, is that it is a part of some labels that exist outside the main hubs of improvisation, (Western Europe and North America to be more specific), spreading, geographically, the gravity for a musical field still marginalized.

The music on Kataklisma, clocking on almost an hour, is constituted by improvisational dialogues between the players, was recorded some time ago, in 2017 at Kaucic’s native Slovenia. This fact also leads me to comment that, it seems, there’s a vibrant small scene there, another miniscule hub in places that, once upon a time, were on the other side of the Iron Curtain (…). But Kataklisma is a multinational affair, deeply informed but what is going on in improvisation on both sides of the Atlantic.

All the four tracks (The Šmartno Odyssey, Calls From Ithaca, Polypheumus and Kataklisma) have titles, as a narrative I guess, from Homer’s epic, Odyssey, a choice that suits the music perfectly. This aural story by Homer tells the tale of Ulysses and his comrades and is a story of friendship, things you lose on the way and all those you find in a parallel way. I don’t believe there’s a better description for the quartet’s music. It is really hard to pin down any individual playing as the collective mature of their sound navigates the music to your ears. There are no egos here, no old-school solo playing. Their interaction is impeccable.

All of them are qualified (but not through a scene that allowed them to ascend, but through playing and interacting with others all over the globe) players that are well aware of the non verbal language and practices of improvisation. And the strong demands I dare to add. The two wind instruments have the audacity to play in unison and keep their individual voices at the same time. There’s no actual bass-drums backbone here, at least not in the traditional jazzy sense. But, mind you, tradition is a word whose burden doesn’t belong in a text that describes the charms of Kataklisma.

Exploratory, adventurous music at its best. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Kaučič / Simon – Žepi/ Pockets (Jazz Cerkno Records, 2022)

Zlatko Kaučič is definitely at ease with any instrumentation and any number of players along him. Here, on a duo with Slovenian sax player (he also utilizes electronic sounds), finds himself in a supposedly difficult position to play along with occasional electronic sounds. The difficulty, to my ears, is that electronic sound sources tend to, at some point at least, take a percussive role during a recording, leaving the drummer with no specific role. But Kaučič is not the usual drummer.

Simon’s playing, on tenor and soprano sax, reveals its jazzy roots but his focus is definitely to fit into the wide variety of gestures by Kaucic’s drumming. But Simon is not the player who follows. He plays and interacts on an equal basis with Kaucic, making it clear –as he is an active member of jazz in Slovenia- that they have played together in the past.

There’s a certain feeling, certainly coming from using their native language on the titles, of locality on this recording. Jazz, like any music obviously, is a universal language, and the different approaches that derive from different geographies and languages can only breathe much needed new life into improvisation. Translated into pockets, the titles of this cd are meant to describe all the tracks (or should I say songs?) as small, sometimes unfinished, vignettes.

I find this idea quite charming, one that delves into the history of improvisational music. This is not “easy” music. Every time that I was getting at ease with each small track, it ended and a new one was just beginning. This is mainly a sax and percussion duo with occasional electronics coming on the foreground. The techniques Simon utilizes allow a certain but difficult to describe electronic nature to his playing. Kaučič is at ease on those moments as well, leaving room for the saxophonists’ playful extravanganza.

Listen, among the other releases of the label, to the cd (kudos for the artwork guys) here