Roger Turner should be no stranger to anyone with even a passing interest in European improvised music. In 1982, the existing duo of Turner and lap steel guitarist Mike Cooper invited saxophonist Lol Coxhill to join them, and the new trio was dubbed The Recedents (I recently reviewed a new five-CD retrospective documenting the Recedent’s tours of Europe in the years 1985-2008, Wishing You Were Here (2015, FreeForm Association)).
The Recedents’ music was a unique brand of electro-acoustic improvisation. In 1983, Turner was granted an Arts Council bursary to continue his investigations into integrated percussion and electronics, and in 1997 he formed another exceptional improv trio, Konk Pack, with saxophonist Tim Hodgkinson and analog synthesist Thomas Lehn. Throughout his career, however, Turner has also formed a number of often enduring partnerships with other improvisors, notably Phil Minton, John Russell, Alan Silva and, for a brief period in the early 80s, Annette Peacock. Witold Oleszak is the latest in this line.
Oleszak is a self-taught pianist who has been active in Polish music and experimental theatre since the 80s, and has apparently specialised: “in ruined, disassembled or otherwise prepared pianos”. He’s recorded one album – Divided by 4 (Multikulti Project, 2012) – with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, Piotr Mełech (clarinet), and Adam Gołębiewski (percussion), but I’m familiar only with this album and its predecessor, Oleszak/Turner’s debut, Over the Title (2012), which was also, incidentally, the first release on the Freeform Association label.
Where Over the Title was a collection of six individually-titled pieces that ranged in duration from two to fifteen minutes, the titles attributed to the performances on Fragments of Parts indicate that each is a numbered ‘fragment’ of a numbered ‘part’ performance. There are sixteen pieces in all, nine of which last less than three minutes, the longest by far being “Part II / Fragment 04” (7:03). Their programmed sequence reflects neither numbered series: The album commences, for example, with “Part III / Fragment 03”, and continues with “Part II / Fragment 04”.
These are mostly brittle performances (the last-sequenced,”Part II / Fragment 02″ is atypically turbulent), but none could be described as fragile, and they don’t actually sound fragmented either: I’d guess that the intention was always to favour concision. The appeal of the music therefore balances the refinement of the étude with the visceral intuition of a practiced improvisation (it might be fruitful, generally, to consider Turner’s solo improvisations as études for percussion).
Turner is ever-resourceful, and he’s in his element in such constantly re-focused music, but it’s often Oleszak who sets the mood: His relatively conventionally-structured improvisation on “Part III / Fragment 02” dips from sustained high drama to a pensive conclusion. In the sequence comprising tracks 6-8, after treating the piano’s harp percussively on “Part II / Fragment 05” Oleszak plucks it on “Part III / Fragment 05” , then sounds glissandi that Turner matches with bowed cymbals on “Part II / Fragment 03”. When Turner takes the initiative on “Part III / Fragment 06”, Oleszak matches him for sensitivity to the raw appeal of frictional contact sounds.
Both players are equally skilled in anticipating the moment at which exposed, entwined resonances will peak and yield their richest fold of textures. They can also both intuit, superbly, whether a given sound should be enhanced or, favouring momentary silence, they should cancel it out. Their closely-considered duets on this album make for a detailed, absorbing experience, every moment yielding the anticipated unexpected.
Witold Oleszak piano; Roger Turner studio drumset and cymbals.
The Recedents (Lol Coxhill, Mike Cooper, Roger Turner) – Wishing You Were Here
Thomas Lehn at Cafe Oto, 2012, with Tim Hodgkinson, Hannah Marshall, and Philipp Wachsmann; John Butcher and Roger Turner
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