Kent Carter and Albrecht Maurer

The Juillaguet Collection
Emanem / 4033

Kent Carter / bass, Albrecht Maurer / violin

There can be something really refreshing about all-strings improvisation, especially when it’s as good, and as accessible, as this. No harsh noise-techniques for Carter and Maurer here; these are pieces about notes, pieces which recall early twentieth-century composers like Hindemith, Bartok and Kodaly, pieces full of sweeping harmonies, exquisite dissonances which seem somehow hollow and folkish. This writer has commented before on a phenomenon in free improvisation — especially in the US — of looking back to a time before Webern and Boulez, a retrieval of the late Romantic music which those composers themselves grew out of. Well, this is another example, from three years ago, and played by musicians who have quite possibly been doing this sort of thing for much longer. So much for trend-spotting.

kent_carter.jpgCarter is one of the better-known free jazz bassmen of his generation, and the list of his previous employers is impressive reading. Here he certainly shows some of his jazz chops, wielding a massive pizzicato like a laser-guided hammer-blow when it’s needed, but this really isn’t jazz, or at any rate there’s no walking or swinging here. He plays arco for most of the session, and between him and Maurer the sound is more like that of a string ensemble than a conventional jazz duet.

Maurer has less name-recognition, which perhaps explains why the conventional listing-order for musicians has been inverted in this case (the violin should be the “lead” instrument, the bass just a “supporting” one — none of that nonsense here, of course). Still, his playing is excellent and full of imagination. He’s never gratuitously spikey or deliberately difficult, and often his playing has a distinctly nostalgic feel. That’s no bad thing; there’s a world of difference between piquantly nostalgic yearning and they-don’t-write-’em-like-that-any-more retro-fetishism.


These performances are almost entirely improvised, to the extent that Emanem have suggested that this CD be filed under “New Music/Mostly Free Improvisation”. While the idea of record shops which have a “Mostly Free Improvisation” department may be a beautiful dream never to be realised, the description is accurate enough; as well as six free improvisations, there are two Maurer tunes and one by Carter. These “compositions” are clearly of the notes-on-paper sort, but the composed sections have an improvisatory feel, and merge quickly but seamlessly into improvisation. It’s always impressive when musicians manage to make this most difficult of transitions feel as natural as Maurer and Carter do here, and this is only compounded by the fact that their all-improvised performances sound just as good as those which are launched by compositions. Richard Cochrane