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Friday, September 8, 2023

SKEIN - Spectra & Affrays (Klanggalerie, 2022)

By Eyal Hareuveni

The ensemble SKEIN is an extension of the free-improvising trio of German pianist Achim Kaufmann and reeds player Frank Gratkowski with Dutch double bass player Wilbert De Joode, which since 2002 has been working, touring and constantly developing, deepening and enriching its musical rapport, now documented on five albums. In 2013 the trio invited three of its favorite musicians - electronics player Richard Barrett, cellist Okkyung Lee and drummer Tony Buck, to form the electro-acoustic sextet: SKEIN, which released its self-titled album that was recorded live at Alte Feuerwache Mannheim in May 2013 (Lep, 2014).

The second incarnation of SKEIN, with new members - trumpeter Liz Albee, guitarist and daxophone player Kazuhisa Uchihashi and master drummer Gerry Hemingway, using the poetry and vocals of Gabriele DR Guenther (Kaufmann’s spouse), performed for the first time at the 2016 Berlin jazz festival and continued to perform in 2019, and these later concerts were documented in Trokaan Project (Trokaan, 2020).

The third incarnation of SKEIN, now a septet with Albee, Uchihashi, Barrett and Buck, performed at the Austrian Konfrontationen Festival Nickelsdorf in 2018 and Klangspuren Festival Schwaz in 2021. Spectra & Affrays documents the live performance in Nickelsdorf. Guenther gave the titles to the three extended improvisations. SKEIN, true to its name, weaves and entangles the highly personal and often eccentric vocabularies of its experienced improvisers while letting the bold and uncompromising, totally free dynamics lead the direction of the music in completely democratic dynamics. SKEIN never slides into virtuosic articulations or into familiar conventions or structures while exploring resonating, timbral details and always keeps a stimulating tension and energy and poetic pathos. The ensemble acts like a strong-minded ensemble that mastered beautifully the art of the moment, or, as the first piece is titled, “in which they are at home”. The three pieces sound like a long suite that continuously enriches its rich palette of sounds with more imaginative details, or as Guenther titled the third and last piece, “Suggesting a thousand stones”.

Fantastic performance. Great album.

Liz Allbee (trumpet, extensions); Frank Gratkowski (alto saxophone, bass clarinets, flute); Kazuhisa Uchihashi (guitar, daxophone); Achim Kaufmann (piano); Wilbert de Joode (double bass); Richard Barrett (electronics); Tony Buck (drums).