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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Rebeka Rusjan Zajc – Prelude (Clean Feed, 2024)

By Don Phipps

Described as “real-time composition” in its liner notes, Slovenian pianist Rebeka Rusjan Zajc’s album Prelude consists of a single 35-minute improvisation titled “Illusion” that brings to mind stream of consciousness techniques developed by Joyce and Proust, where sentences can go on for pages and the emphasis is more about process than narrative. Zajc achieves this with an extended dreamy and eerie abstraction. In some respects, the improv sounds like Keith Jarrett’s more adventurous improvisations, but Zajc eschews some of Jarrett’s more repetitive methods in favor of broad and sweeping musical approaches.

There are no easily determined themes here to hang one’s hat on. Instead, the music is propelled with an unsettling restlessness. Zajc’s fingerings extend to the highest and lowest register of the piano, and at times they produce a dramatic, floating and dynamic recitation. The music is analogous to a river – diverting into branches, running fast in places and pooling in others, the terrain shifting and changing as the river makes its way along. Zajc uses drips and splashes, yet her touch is surehanded and engaging – one that provides for controlled dynamics that, even though improvised, never seem to abandon the music’s overall context. Especially noteworthy is her left-hand technique, which, on the lower piano notes, alternates between gentle strides and pronounced intensity.

For lack of a better word, there are two pauses in the exposition, and like the ending of the piece, they come on suddenly and unexpectedly. However, these pauses allow Zajc to strike out in a new direction. For example, after the second pause, the music becomes dance-like, and Zajc uses her left hand to boom single notes while the right crisscrosses the keys like an elevator – up and down.

The music presented, while dissonant, moderately atonal, and abstract, is never harsh, preferring instead to echo derivatives of late 20th century impressionism. Rich in texture – nothing feels rushed. “Illusion” flows like a meandering walk across a vast open field that expands as far as the eye can see – in short, offering a sweeping aural vista.

Zajc’s work here exhibits a talent that at first glance appears to possess an abundance of technique and ideas. It is therefore not surprising that the album offers a satisfying, intricate musical journey through the mind of a gifted and budding artist.


Alexander said...

I've been enjoying this release. Probably my favorite of the year so far.