|roland dahinden | composer – performer|
Kleeb – Dahinden – Babel
Pianist Bill Evans commented that "the science of building a line, if you can call it a science, is enough to occupy somebody for twelve lifetimes". That occupation involved preparation for the spontaneous effort – the effort of creating improvised lines. The concept of building a line, and especially the idea that it involves a science, seems to belong to music like Evans' – music with an established sound within definite parameters, in his case a cantabile piano tone, and a swinging jazz feel.
"Building" suggests a more rational, systematic process than the intuitive approach of Hildegard Kleeb, Roland Dahinden and Alexandre Babel. But that's a mistaken opposition, I'd argue – intuitive means thoughtful, and among other things, rational. Lines has a strong intentional, linear flow, and instrumental lines interweave, slowly with lots of space and time on the glacial "Primroses And Snow", or intense and fast on the scurrying "Riding On A Leaf" or the raucous "Squares And Trees". The players love what they call crosstalk – Dahinden's trombone resonating in the piano strings, and Kleeb playing with this to yield new sound colours. Sometimes the interweaving of Babel's vibraphone and Kleeb's piano is so intense, the respective timbres can hardly be distinguished.
These LINES are melodic or contrapuntal. They are also, Kleeb comments, "like structures in nature, an imaginary landscape we three are following, as we would a score". Like Morton Feldman, they're influenced by visual artists – the works of Jackson Pollock and Inge Dick are possible reference points, she explains: "The music is very visual, sometimes like sculptures, made out of LINES". In "Primroses And Snow", Kleeb adds, "there are invisible (inaudible) LINES between the sounds of vibes and piano, as in a sculpture by Fred Sandbeck". The effect on this track is haunting, vestigial. Sometimes they agree, "Let's play Duchamps", "Let's reference Morton Feldman's piece for two pianos", "Let's play fast lines", "Let's play a variation from what we just played". The pianist adds: "Those ideas are like meeting points, coordinates, but the playing is freely improvised, we never know [in advance] where travelling will bring us to... Very often we play with randomness and coincidence", she explains. "Our guides are listening and intuition".
In fact, this music blurs the boundaries between free improvisation on the one hand, and score−based music or mainstream jazz on the other. What lies behind these contested labels? For some commentators, the free improviser is unusual in having no long−term plan, procedure or set course. On this view, it seems, there can be no genuine mistakes in free improvisation. Pianist John Snijders, for instance, comments that:
It is hard to know what meaning "mistake" has [in this music]. In a composed piece, a mistake means doing something one is not supposed to do. In free improvisation, it seems only to mean doing something one has not planned to do.
Composer and improviser Cornelius Cardew developed that thought in a paradoxical direction. In free music, he argued, "The only criterion for a sound is: 'was the player expecting (intending) to make it?' If not, it was a mistake, and makes a different sort of claim to beauty. As a mistake, it comes under criteria for action: mistakes are the only truly spontaneous actions we are capable of". It's probably true that the free improviser has no long-term plan, procedure or set course. But still they can can do things they did not intend to do, and these, perhaps, amount to mistakes – providing further inspiration to themselves and their collaborators.
Wittgenstein in On Certainty elucidated the contrast between errors and mistakes – the latter occur when someone can reason or observe correctly, but is inattentive, or reasons wrongly:
Can't we say: a mistake doesn't only have a cause, it also has a ground? I.e., roughly: when someone makes a mistake, this can be fitted into what he knows aright.
To describe something as a mistake is to say that it is to some extent understandable – it emerges explicably from the subject's beliefs or capacities. Playing notes out of tune is a slip or mistake, but not when the perpetually tuneless soprano Florence Foster Jenkins did it – or saxophonist Jackie McLean, whose acidulous style involved playing sharp, perhaps to stand out from the ensemble.
There are mistakes, and there are misconceptions – which also occur in free improvisation. Philip Clark distinguishes "momentary lapses of technique" from "more systemic misunderstanding" in this music. Like anyone engaged in a skilled activity with artistic standards, free improvisers, especially novices, can make poor artistic choices. Though rules of taste disappeared with classicism, we still talk of aesthetic failings – an off white jacket and cream trousers do not match, blue and grey go better than blue and green – while being alive to style that transcends such errors.
I'm not sure whether there are mistakes on this album – but if so, they involve Cardew's "different sort of claim to beauty", subsumed under a stylistic integrity and organic conception. A key factor here is that after a long collaboration, Kleeb and Dahinden have finally found the right percussionist to expand their duo. Through his beguiling textures and pellucid tuned percussion, Babel tempers the coolness found on earlier albums such as Stones. It's a totally simpatico musical partnership.
Kleeb comments that their concept of the trio is quite open – they're not aiming for a final definition, but for the beauty, power and creativity of possibility. Anthony Braxton's concept of things coming together by coincidence is a particular inspiration. Werner Uehlinger had the idea of grouping the takes in two lines, 1st and 2nd line, an organisation which the open, creative ears of listeners can play with. As the musicians say, "you may find contrast in the overall line or in the lines between the takes – may your mind fly".