Thanos Chrysakis – piano, harp
Ernesto Rodrigues – viola
Guilherme Rodrigues – cello
Miguel Mira – double bass
Abdul Moimême – electric guitar
Recorded on 8th January 2015, Lisbon
I haven’t had much time to review of late. I also find it difficult to understand and appreciate some of the albums that come my way. There’s just so much music out there and a lot of it sounds the same. Not so with Exaíphnes, sent to me by the wonderful and verstatile Thanos Chrysakis, whose music both solo and collective I’ve enjoyed over many years. This is such a wonderful offering – any problems around how to approach contemporary idioms are left behind as we listen to what is, simply, good music, a reality on its own, inhabiting its own space and obeying its own inner formal logic.
Exaíphnes means ‘suddenly’ or ‘unexpectedly’ which is odd because there were no shocks or sudden events as far as I could make out. No need, as Paul Virilio fears with so much of today’s fast and furious art, for the armchair to become the fighter pilot’s cockpit. Restraint (excuse my ignorance of Greek) would have been a far more appropriate title because Exaíphnes flows without too many sudden twists and turns. The only unexpected thing is the title. I know now that it refers to something social – to how the musicians were taken by surprise at what they had created, at the unfolding of their own processes.
There are three tracks, all played by a very tight band, each recognisable as the distinctive music of that ensemble. Most listeners will notice this as the first of the album’s many strengths. In track I, for example, with its nuances of ritual, you become familiar with the sounds very quickly, with their shapes and articulations, to the point that individual parts and overall coalescence become of equal weight, one of the hallmarks of a sound ensemble. There is compactness and consistency, fine interplay and responsiveness and few if any little flights of fancy towards morphological impoverishment. This relaxes the listener but keeps the ear keen. Instrumentation comes over as clever orchestration. The recognisability of the electric guitar is, wisely, well masked. To be honest I don’t really need to unpick too many strands from the work because I can guarantee that any listener to new music will immediately appreciate the high standards of this ensemble’s work. If this is free improvisation, and I think it is, there’s a deep understanding of emergent form, however abstract and indeterminate the organisation, an underlying implicate order, a holomovement, foregrounded by a distinctive ensemble sound which sets this work apart from a lot of what I’ve heard in the idiom. In addition to the variety and pace of the music, track I has a ‘proper’ ending to the piece – a gentle quiet diminuendo.
Track II opens with a beautifully sustained textural exploration which could, like the track itself, have spun out its formal properties over a much longer duration, such was the musical interest. This track in particular had something of the orient going on, eastern-flavoured drums, gongs and a windy blown thing of unknown origin. Very inventive. Yet there’s no percussionist as such listed nor any strictly categorised percussion instruments so the duties must have been shared using extended techniques and sustained timbres. Track III offers again an excellent blend of percussive sounds in which everything is wholesome and consistent, the kind of consistency one expects from conventional instruments. There is also, as you listen over time, a very gentle collective touch where nothing abrasive is allowed to intrude.
My only criticism is directed at a possible weakness towards the end, where the music strays, becomes a bit directionless, a common problem in freely improvised music – if that’s what we have here – as if everyone is waiting and anticipating that the others will come to an end. But the many strengths of the music easily outweigh this small blip.
I can’t recommend the album highly enough. Even though tracks I and II are in my opinion too short, which unbalances the album a little, this instrumental ensemble is quite masterful in its simplicity and utterly convincing throughout. It all sounds like an album played by a seasoned band made up of the same personnel and who have been playing together for ages. That tells you something about the music.
Released on Creative Sources Recordings