MUHAL RICHARD ABRAMS / The Visibility of Thought

Muhal Richard Abrams (piano); Philip Bush (piano); Joseph Kubera (piano); Jon Deak (contrabass); Mark Feldman (violin); Thomas Buckner (baritone); ETHEL: Ralph Farris (viola); Dorothy Lawson (cello); Todd Reynolds (violin); Mary Rowell (violin)


This is the first CD with chamber music by Muhal Richard Abrams, one of the most highly respected musicians in the contemporary music scene. He is co-founder of The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), founder of The AACM School of Music, and the first recipient of the grand international jazz award, The JazzPar Prize, by the Danish Jazz Center (1990). Except for a brief period of study at the Chicago Musical College and Governors State University in Chicago where he studied electronic music, Abrams is predominantly a self-taught musician who, as a result of many years of observation, analysis, and practice as a performing musician, has developed a command of a variety of musical styles both as a pianist and composer. Abrams and members of the AACM are responsible for some of the most original new music approaches of the last three decades.



Duet for Contrabass and Piano (6:01)
Duet for Violin and Piano (10:01)
Baritone Voice and String Quartet (10:38)
Piano Duet #1 (10:48)
The Visibility of Thought (5:14)
Piano Improvisation  (29:05)


Ingvar Loco Nordin, SONOLOCO

“Duet for Contrabass and Piano” is the starter on this first CD with chamber music by Muhal Richard Abrams. It introduces itself in quirky, murky strokes and leaky, creaky spider vibrations out of the double bass, which involves itself in an absentminded, spiraling, swirling dance through the dust across the attic floor, in the bleak light falls in through the only window, facing fields of snow and a barn and some other farm houses in the stillness of winter in North America… and the feeling at the outset is not all that far removed from some of the Suites for Violoncello by Johann Sebastian Bach, though perhaps this time with the sound bowed and bent in a bulging mirror reflection of a submerged dream… but a contrabass version of the Cello Suites does exist, recorded in 2000 by Edgar Meyer.


However, Jon Deak’s cello gets company here by Joseph Kubera’s tender piano. The fluency is perfect, the surface of the sound glossy and cool, hardwood-like under your fondling fingertips, tripping gently over the palpability of this music. Yes, the music has real body, real presence, and in this beautifully recorded sound you’re right in the middle of the flow.


Next is “Duet for Violin and Piano” with Mark Feldman playing the violin and Joseph Kubera continuing on the piano. The piano is feeling its way through a pitch black cellar, in deep, lurking progressions of carefulness, not to trip over any stray log of wood lying around after the fuses have all blown in the cold of winter. The violin sketches lighter figures across the window of the mind, and the serenity of the preceding duet spills over into this piece, while the piano lightens up in pearly beads of a sudden optimism, finding the basement staircase leading up to light and the fresh breathables of winter midday America.


The meditative, or should I say apprehensive, property of this music forges tradition and contemporary violin avantgardism into a peculiar but very enjoyable tapestry of emotions. I can hear echoes of Malcolm Goldstein’s scratchy fiddle as well as of Christina Fong’s noble Cage violin interpretations, but we’re close to some of the best of the Alban Berg / Anton Webern atmospheres too, if you can imagine a setting like that. The mastery of all this is read in the clarity of the composition, of the recorded sound, which, though intricate and complex, always presents itself in a transparence through which the light seeps.


“Baritone Voice and String Quartet” features Thomas Buckner as the baritone and the ETHEL String Quartet as the string quartet. Buckner opens with a kind of humming-in-a-barrel sound, as the strings of the quartet move in for protection and assurance, moving Buckner across a summer’s meadow, where the fragrances of all the flowers get you in an instant relaxation which couldn’t be more severe even if Laura Huxley had prepared you with her “Recipes for Living and Loving”! (“Your Favorite Flower” and “A Rainbow Walk”).


Again, like on Thomas Buckner’s and Tom Hamilton’s CD “jump the circle, jump the line” (Mutablemusic 17507-2), I get reminded of Jean Schwarz’s work “Quatre Saisons”, where another baritone works in a contemporary - in that case even electroacoustic - setting. This might have to do with the fact that baritones engaging in contemporeana aren’t that many, but I also must assume that there really is some kind of artistic similarity between Abrams/Buckner and Schwarz/Chaminé, revealing itself through these vocal garlands of pastoral visions, allowing for birds and insects and flowers and drifting white clouds across a blue sky - right there in the feeling that this music instigates inside your perceptual abilities.


“Piano Duet” has Joseph Kubera and Philip Bush playing the pianos, in an elusive, jazzy rendition, in glimpses of Conlon Nancarrow and Keith Jarrett, casting long spirals of ebony and ivory across the environment, extending like the arms of an octopus. It’s a conversational piece, the two pianos sometimes listening before talking, sometimes simply talking in each other’s keyboards, like in a heated argument at the breakfast table… but mostly the participants respect each other, though often completely concentrated, each one on their own chores, however sometimes producing a kind of cat-and-mouse counterpoint…


In more somber parts the music is at rest, at ease, slumped back in comfort and gravity, as the notes slowly roll out of the basket like blue rubber balls, rolling across the floor, hitting the walls, rebounding in all kinds of trajectories across the carpets.


Track 5 is the title track; “The Visibility of Thought”, with the composer on computer, synthesizer and sequencer. Abrams opens a connection to electronic history, and lets what falls down over his table appear in random rays of sound, mixing - in sparse precipitation - sounds of historic value with contemporary sonic gestures. Sweeping motions leaving residue of sound in comet-tail traces across the soundscape are cut up by sounds handled and treated percussively, and even Stanford University computer bubbles out of the vein of John Chowning blow by in electroacoustic swarms, like early After Dark screen savers! Abrams leaves one of the main parts of this play of sounds to silence itself; the basis for sound, which is the firstborn child of… silence.


The longest piece on this interesting and beautiful CD is the concluding track 6; “Piano Improvisation”. Beginning on a searching, meditative note it tracks down all kinds of musical morphemes across the moors, on hardly visible trails along the mountainsides, overlooking the North Sea or the Atlantic, through treacherous terrain…


There is a kind of musical fluency and ease at play here, not unlike the atmospheres of the piano solo albums by Californian Ernesto Diaz-Infante (“Solus”, “Ucross Journal”, “Itz’at”, “Tepeu”), and some piano improvisations by Herbert Henck also come to mind - but there is a streak of Abrams privacy here too, a tone of voice, a dialect, an accent belonging solely to Abrams… and its elating getting lost on these moors, on these misty trails with occasional clearings in the weather when you can catch glimpses of high mountains, steep cliffs and roaring seas below. The music is elastic along the timeline, stretching out in thin, airy prolongations, only to tighten up after a while in dense and fast clusters, which in turn slow down and thin out into high altitude air with a low percentage of oxygen and a darkening sky where the stars are visible even in the middle of the day, in Amadablam views of the musical scenery!