AMN Reviews: The Conundrum Project I [Bandcamp]; George Kokkinaris – Composed Improvisations [Bandcamp]

The Conundrum Project is an effort in collective improvisation led by pianist Agamemnon Moustakas featuring a rotating membership of participants. This recording was made in 2017 with five musicians in addition to Moustakas; each track highlights a different combination of players with results rich in variety of atmosphere and color. The six musicians represented here are all accomplished improvisers bringing with them different perspectives on sound.

The groupings and subgroupings on the album range from duo to full sextet; the sound environments resemble free jazz at times, and at other times contemporary chamber music. For example, on the free jazz side, both Trio I, for Moustakas, drummer Stefanos Psaradakis and saxophonist/flutist Panagiotis Raptis, and Duo I, for Moustakas and Raptis, explore expressionistic, reed-driven territory. Quintet II, for Moustakas, Raptis, and Psaradakis along with bass clarinetist Spyros Mitsoulis and double bassist George Kokkinaris, is a more serene affair bordering on melancholy, its center of gravity balancing on slowly shifting layers of long tones and cymbal rolls. The timbral overlap of bowed bass and bass clarinet is especially atmospheric on this piece. In a dramatic change of mood, Trio II has Kokkinaris and Mitsoulis joined by vocalist Claire Doukoumetzaki for a frantic mix of extended instrumental technique and wordless voice. Doukoumetzaki and Psaradakis play together on Duo II, a very quiet piece for metal percussion and the human voice realized as pure timbre. The final track is the only one featuring all six players at once. While many collective improvisations for sextet can feel crowded, with each voice attempting to be heard over the rest, this one is well-paced and notable for the mutual restraint displayed by all involved. Individual members drop out to leave space for others and then rejoin; the result is a thoughtful piece marked by a mobility of dynamics and timbral combinations. An excellent summary statement for a fine album.

Composed Improvisations finds Kokkinaris alone, playing two long pieces inspired by Anthony Braxton’s unique hybrid of improvisation and composition. This is a different kind of recording from Kokkinaris’ solo release last year of works by two contemporary Greek composers; here Kokkinaris composes the pieces in real time himself, from a repertoire of gestures and sounds organized according to his desire not to assert undue control over his interaction with the instrument. The first piece, Hommage to Anthony Braxton, has an unmistakably exploratory feeling to it, as tones, timbres, and techniques are pulled out in an unhurried way and tried, tested, and turned around for examination from all possible angles. The shorter Singing, But Not Talking is a three-part piece that appropriately to its title opens with a lyrical, post-Romantic arco melody before moving to a pizzicato continuation and then to a finale of bowed chords constructed of multiphonics and harmonics. The recording, done this past July in Athens, is richly detailed and well serves Kokkinaris’ proclivity for drawing deep, resonant tones from his instrument.

Dan Barbiero