Paul G. Smyth & John Wiese! The Outlier!
Label Weekertoft Records, founded by Irish pianist Paul G. Smyth and English guitarist John Russell, is back after an almost two-year hiatus. The pandemic is a pandemic, but the reason for the inactivity could also be the departure of the guitarist from this part of the universe – we said goodbye to the legend of free impro in January last year.
Despite these still sad circumstances, the fact that the label returns to the world of the living pleases us immensely, especially since its new editorial proposal is simply an excellent album. The prepared piano and a large portion of electronics could raise some concerns at the start, as is usually the case with improvisation that combines live and synthetic phrases, but in the case of The Outlier we can only talk about the successful artistic choices of both musicians. What’s more, the recording is live, so we presume that what we hear on the album is a faithful reflection of what the artists did on stage. All the more respect! And one more important observation at the beginning – Smyth and Wiese during the almost hour-long narration very effectively evoke memories of the minimalist improvisations of the legendary AMM formation! Anyway, they do it many times, even referring to a few aesthetics that this wonderful group introduced into the history of the genre. When the reviewer’s imagination made specific associations, you will find out by reading the entire review. Welcome!
The beginning of the concert is created by a blur of ambient suspended in the vastness of a large concert hall and the filigree clatter of piano hammers, which also seem to create their own ambient. Percussion accents flow from the living flank, and from the synthetic one – the darkness of post-acoustic, mysterious phrases. The narrative has an exceptionally wide electroacoustic spectrum, and the balance between the components seems almost model. Each of these elements is capable of surprising here, and a large part of the sounds cannot be easily attributed to their place of origin. Piano preparations have a lot of question marks, and post-industrial electronics seems to have unlimited possibilities in this regard.
The improvisation sparkles with good interactions, is rich in sounds and dramatic ideas. The musicians do not pursue many heights, do not look for reasons to escalate, and often return for pure ambient and balanced, pianistic deliberations. They consistently build the atmosphere of sensual electroacoustics, which takes its time to look for answers to the questions asked. Sometimes all the streams of narrative cover a post-percussion figure, other times they stick to delicate drones, which reminds us of the aforementioned AMM from the 1980s, when the group consisted of a trio of very actively prepared guitar, piano and percussion. The above association works well, for example, when the piano on the key is subtly dissonant with the noise of electroacoustics. It gets even more beautiful when this minimalist phrasing approaches the area of silence. Acoustics temporarily takes control of synthetics and invites us into the darkness of non-obvious sounds. Almost the entire middle phase of the concert is woven of these dark details and dramatic understatements. Focus, minimalism, flaccid streams of resonance, but also a gigantic anxiety between sounds. After all, these are also features that are inextricably linked with the aesthetics of the formation that we have just mentioned. By the way, at some point in the concert you can get the impression that electronics can also deconstruct piano phrases in the live processing formula.
The next stage of the narrative is a kind of density. The electronics are looking for more noise and post-industrial connotations, while the black piano keys are starting to build really impressive suspense. Darkness, dirty sound and a certain tendency to build slightly more aggressive phrases lead us to another association with AMM, this time with the era when the idiom of free improvisation was forged in bronze and lead in the United Kingdom, i.e. still in the 1960s.
After three quarters of an hour, the musicians slowly begin to close ranks and build the foundations for the end of the performance. Again, we have the impression that we are dealing with live processing – we definitely hear more than one thread of foam. The electronic website also offers us several audio streams. Preparations, electronic distortions, and hundreds of other events take hold of the scene, but the story itself is by no means too far from silence. It is from these details and quarter phrases that the musicians begin to build a denser narrative. Lots of layered post-ambient, but also streams of acoustic preparations, again equipped with the darkness of anxiety and nervous, stealthy glances. The finalization itself seems to be filled with a fleeting hustle and bustle. Black keys, a post-industrial aftertaste of electronics and a lot of chaotic echo in the background. And finally… applause, a sharp return to the reality of the concert and the open space of music.
Paul G. Smyth & John Wiese The Outlier (Weekertoft Records, CD 2022). Paul G. Smyth – piano, John Wiese – electronics. The concert was recorded on February 26, 2015 in Dublin, Kevin Barry Room, National Concert Hall. One improvisation, 53:46