Chris Burn – as if as

Music for solo piano by English composer and improviser Chris Burn. Including premiere recordings of most pieces, and, as well as major original compositions, Burn’s set of six Derek Bailey transcriptions ‘from ten, two and three’, and music for two piano featuring the pianist Kate Ledger.

as if as

only the snow

from ten, two and three

pressings and screenings

the sky a silver dissonance (feat. Kate Ledger)

confront recordings, core 09

Transcribing Derek Bailey guitar improvisations for solo pianist might seem like a uniquely pointless exercise, one that rubs against the grain of everything Bailey preached about the liquidity of improvised music; sounds that exist in, and for, the moment only. But as pianist Philip Thomas points out in his sleeve note, Chris Burn’s transcriptions of material from Bailey’s 1991 Solo Guitar Volume 2 give an objectified analysis of the guitarist’s practice and aesthetic. Burn developed these piano transcriptions out of an earlier version he made for the improv trio Cranc, and the ‘stringiness’ of that group’s violin, cello, harp line-up has bled through into his piano rethink; Thomas, you fancy, is plucking the keyboard rather than attacking it with his fingers. The most radical departure from Bailey is due to the piano’s fixed tuning and temperament: some of those perfect fifths and open thirds, sheathed in overtones and resonant sustain on the guitar, sound dangerously naked on the cleaner-cut piano. As a consequence, light shines on the architectural clarity underlining Bailey’s improvisations, and you’re sent back to the original record to discover them anew. Surrounding the Bailey transcriptions is a set of Burn’s own compositions, which reconcile Henry Cowell and John Cage with Cecil Taylor and Muhal Richard Abrams. As If As, Only The Snow, Pressing and Screenings and the two-piano The Sky A Silver Dissonance (for which Thomas is joined by Kate Ledger) are all scampering and elusive – sounds entirely of the piano apparently happy to escape its confines and history.

Philip Clark – JAZZWISE

In another circumstance we would be here talking about a record of improvisations for piano. But in the case of As If As, what appears to be improvised – at least most of it – is scored. More precisely by Chris Burn, a clever pianist specializing in interpretations of Henry Cowell and John Cage’s works among others, and a multi-instrumentalist composer, arranger and conductor whose activities in the English free music collectivity are well documented. Philip Thomas, himself an outstanding pianist, is the right man to concretely project Burn’s perspective (including a transcription of, get this, extracts from Derek Bailey’s Solo Guitar Vol.2). The grammar of this album may be rather difficult to understand for the newcomer given the large doses of harmonic atypicality and rhythmic fragmentation, yet it is chock full of delights for those who can distinguish between a rational balancing of said and unsaid and random rants replete with purposeless gesticulation. Thomas – aided by Kate Ledger in the final track “The Sky A Silver Dissonance” – lets the music breathe beautifully, translating with rare incisiveness the spaces, velocities, beams and clusters provided by Burn’s writing. In the introductory notes, he emphasizes “the subtleties of the harmonics which are revealed after attacks, but also (…) the silences, the anticipations”. He obviously can’t state that it is thanks to his prowess that these characteristics shine as we, the lucky ones, listen. Such kind of fairness in a virtuoso’s attitude will find favorable ground in this writer’s soul forever. Hopefully, the same will happen to the readers persuaded by the words.

Massimo Ricci – touching extremes