For good reason, abstract art and improvised music have long been associated with each other. As disciplines, they’ve been mutually inspiring and influencing; as bodies of work lacking overtly mimetic or predictably cyclical forms and conventions, they challenge audiences in similar ways. And, galleries of modern and contemporary art make for congenial settings for staging improvised music.
At the end of last year, the Galleria d’arte moderna e contemporanea in Pordenone in Northeast Italy hosted a program of live improvisation by a trio led by Marco Colonna. Impressioni Astratte—the release is named for the art exhibit it was connected to—captures the music played there.
Colonna, who plays clarinets, saxophones and flute, is a prolific musician of broad culture. In addition to more conventional improvisational settings, he’s played North African-tinged duets with oudist Evaggelos Merkouris, and has transcribed and adapted to solo clarinet selected movements by J. S. Bach. For this date, he put together a geographically-diverse ensemble—Colonna is from Rome–which included double bassist Giovanni Maier (Friuli in Northeast Italy) and Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaucic.
Like good abstract painting, the music is fraught with a creative tension that impels a sense a movement. Also like good abstract painting, it is uncluttered. There are no wasted gestures but instead a constantly moving equilibrium of timbres, dynamics and, most importantly, open space. Kaucic’s restrained, sensitive playing has much to do with keeping the overall textures accommodating in that regard. With generous arco lines and discrete use of harmonics, Maier is particularly adept at crafting timbral counterpoint to Colonna’s reeds. Colonna, for his part, maintains a profoundly lyrical voice throughout, providing the center of gravity on which the music balances.
In the end, abstraction rises or falls on the plasticity that defines it—those dynamic relationships of forms and colors that structure the picture plane. By analogy this is true of improvised music, where the stakes and risks of performers disclosing their formal choices in real time are particularly high. Impressioni Astratte is dramatically successful in this regard and is a fine example of painting with sound.