Review: Duos at Kings Place - Marius Neset, Daniel Herskedal, Michael Wollny, Tamar Halperin, Magnus Öström

Marius Neset and Daniel Herskedal
Air Sessions Kings Place 2014.
Photo Credit Roger Thomas

Duos: Marius Neset, Daniel Herskedal, Michael Wollny, Tamar Halperin, Magnus Öström 
(The Air Sessions, King's Place. Mar. 15th, 2014. Review by Alison Bentley)

Two's company, and the crowd in King's Place Hall One were completely focused on this evening of German/Scandinavian duos.

Norwegians Marius Neset and Daniel Herskedal opened on tenor and tuba with Abdullah Ibrahim's poignant The Wedding. The hall's perfect acoustic blended Neset’s Garbarek-like tone with the primal tuba bass lines, filling the spaces between the notes with resonant overtones. When Herskedal created chords by singing into the tuba's mouthpiece, it could've been Tibetan overtone chanting. How could such an apparently cumbersome instrument be so light on its feet? In his energetic Good Morning Denmark, Herskedal looked as if he was dancing cheek to cheek with the tuba, the bell peering over his shoulder. Christmas Song had rich slow harmonies, and Lutra, Lutra, a Balkan dance in 7/16, had the instruments riffing in call and response, before Neset exploded into his solo: a Sonny Rollins tone with Steve Coleman-esque harmonies, wonderfully jarring. The two studied and played with Django Bates in Copenhagen, and had a real rapport in these pieces from their 2012 album Neck of the Woods.

German pianist Michael Wollny followed in duet with harpsichordist Tamar Halperin- she was born in Israel, but now lives in Germany. The harpsichord's percussive edge in tandem with piano sounded like a completely different instrument. Wollny and Halperin's album is called Wunderkammer (or Cabinet of Curiosities), and that's how the stage looked: an Indian drone, a tiny glockenspiel, thumb pianos scattered between the harpsichord and grand piano. Kabinett II, with its delicate, otherworldly tracery, called on Bach and Philip Glass in its mesmeric repetitions. When Wollny eerily strummed the piano strings, it wasn't clear which instrument was which.

Wollny's music is often inspired by the paranormal, and Sagée was named after a 19th Century woman with a doppelgänger. The counterpointed musical lines walked round each other, clusters of notes on the harpsichord strummed like a guitar, flickers of Beethoven, Bill Evans and Ravel (like the sound of the gibbet in Gaspard de la Nuit)

Wollny's Hexentanz (or witch dance) moved from Ligeti to rocky diminished scale riffs, jazzy chords unfolding into the next ones like time lapse photography. As Wollny bent low over the piano, hair flying, he looked part Romantic composer, part 21st Century goth. He played thumb piano with the harpsichord and Halperin’s tingling glockenspiel like Steve Reich riffing on a Deep Purple tune.

Neset and Wollny joined forces after the interval, Neset's sunnier playing bringing out different qualities in Wollny, who sounded more like his mentor Joachim Kühn. In the middle of the turbulence you suddenly realised sax and piano were playing a theme in unison- then back into the melee. Their second piece in 7 moved from dripping piano notes to rocky roars. Neset sounded like the UK's Tony Woods, with his pastoral tone and Brecker-ish energy.

Former e.s.t. drummer, the innovative Magnus Öström, joined Daniel Herskedal for the fourth duo. Öström played African grooves with rods (no splashy cymbals), the tuba grunting funkily around the creative electronic enhancements of Öström's sound. Wollny and Neset were added for Neset's ballad Intermezzo, with rumbling mallets and tuba resonances coming up through the floor. All five played Wollny's Kabinett V, Neset's soprano sailing on the stormy 5/8 groove, drawing the warmest applause of the evening. Wollny introduced the encore as a Lullaby: 'You may laugh, but this takes us by surprise. We don't know what we're going to play.' The most compelling thing was the sense of these extraordinary musicians listening intently to each other, intuiting the next note, as they called up jazz, folk, modern classical music and rock in their collectively improvised finale.

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