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Heinz Geisser - Guerino Mazzola Duo
Folia / The Unam Concert

Cat. No.: SHCD153

Personnel:
Guerino Mazzola  Boesendorfer grand piano
Heinz Geisser  percussion

Track Listing:
1. The Man of the Sun (Mazzola / Geisser) 27:12
2. Sacrifice of the Dancer (Mazzola / Geisser) 25:27
3. Fiery Mirror (Mazzola / Geisser) 9:25

Total time: 62:06
 
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Swiss drummer Heinz Geisser and pianist Guerino Mazzola have worked together since 1994, dovetailing their considerable creative energies into an ever-closer musical symbiosis. This recording was made in Mexico City in October 2000 under the best possible circumstances. A CD was played in the limousine which drove the duo to this concert of Rachmaninoff’s 'Corelli Variations', a reworking of a theme that had appeared earlier in Corelli’s 12th Violin Sonata in D minor. Even at that time it was a found theme originating in the 'Folia' madness, a fertility dance from the late 15th century. Rachmaninoff’s 'Folia' theme became a crucial agent in the Mexico City performance. As Mazzola reported, 'You can in fact hear this short theme all over the concert and it turned out that it fits incredibly well in my own harmonic, melodic and rhythmic strategies.' Geisser and Mazzola decided to call this CD Folia for its spontaneous mixture of madness and control.
Their musical and improvisational abilities as a duo are nothing short of sensational throughout this exciting session.
 
 
Liner Notes

Time's Ecstasy

Folía: the UNAM Concert is a recording in which two accomplished improvisers, already deeply familiar with one another's work, fold chance and circumstance into their developed dialogue to create an event of special circumstance, touching in the process on some of the West's major themes, both musical and historical. This is improvised music, music of the moment, but what is captured here is a moment of a particular scale.
Swiss drummer Heinz Geisser and pianist Guerino Mazzola have been working together since 1994, steadily developing an ever-closer musical relationship in which their substantial energies and intuitions have dovetailed.
Heinz Geisser is a percussionist of unusual musicality, able to weave a complex tapestry of sonic events that combines polyrhythmic density with an acute sense of the phrase. He is the founder of the Collective 4tet, the New York-based ensemble with Mark Hennen, Jeff Hoyer and William Parker that has recorded three CDs on Leo Records.
Guerino Mazzola's career is a startling study in the convergence of art and science, a creative flight into the worlds of music and mathematics that has found new links between the two. As mathematician and musicologist, he has been a pioneer in the computer analysis of musical patterns and auditory perception. As a musician, Mazzola is rooted deeply in both the European and jazz piano traditions. The roots of his work are apparent from the 1980 recording Akroasis, a transformation of Beethoven's monumental Hammerklavier Sonata dedicated to Cecil Taylor
The two musicians build on a fundamental musical bond, formal and stylistic, that reverberates with the explosive energies of free jazz as it was first elaborated in New York in the 1960s. There is an immediate resemblance to the seminal group work of Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane in terms of sheer scale. Mazzola's approach to the piano insists on levels of velocity and density that inevitably invoke Taylor's playing, while Geisser's equally complex generation and overlay of percussion patterns extends traditions of polyrhythmic drumming that have found their modern incarnations in the playing of Elvin Jones and Milford Graves. While Geisser and Mazzola belong to a tradition of tumultuous energy in free improvisation, they have developed their own individual and shared musical vocabularies, including a specifically European facility with large forms that can suggest Beethoven or Scriabin. Both traditions insist on the transformational potential of the music.
Their collaboration has resulted in a handful of potent CDs. They have worked with fellow-Swiss saxophonist Mathias Rissi, both in a big band under Rissi's leadership on Yavapai and working their way through the elements as a trio on Fuego (both on Creative Works) and Tierra (forthcoming on Cadence). They have also created a series of recordings with American collaborators. There is a trio CD with altoist Rob Brown called Orbit (on Music and Arts) and two CDs by the Heinz Geisser-Guerino Mazzola Quartet: Maze with guitarist Scott Fields and cellist Matt Turner (on Quixotic), and Heliopolis with Fields and violinist Mat Maneri (on Cadence).
This is the second duo CD to be released by Geisser and Mazzola, recorded in Mexico City in October 2000, some three years after the previous Toni's Delight from a concert in Seoul (Cadence). This recording shares much with Toni's Delight. It is both duo music and traveling music, a live performance a long way from home, from a tour that began in Korea and wended through Japan before making its way to Mexico.
One of the special seeds of Folía was planted en route to the concert, after Mazzola had been lecturing on the modulation topography in the Hammerklavier sonata. The musicians were in congenial company with Emilio Lluis Puebla, another mathematician/ musician who is both a concert pianist and the president of the Mexican Mathematical Society. As Puebla drove them to the concert, Mazzola recalls, "he played a CD of Rachmaninoff's Corelli Variations for us. It was a revelation to me. I didn't know it, and I promised Emilio that I was going to make my own variation on the Corelli theme."
As it turned out, the theme became a crucial agent in the performance. Mazzola continues, "you can in fact hear the short theme (something like c...d...b.....a...b...a-flat) all over the concert. It turned out that the theme fits incredibly well in my own harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic strategies."
The theme that Rachmaninoff worked with, from Corelli's 12th Violin Sonata in D minor, first published in 1700, was already a found theme. It had its source in the "Folía," madness, dance that originated in the late fifteenth century as a fertility dance, with each dancer carrying another, dressed as a woman, on his shoulders (the levity of the burdens of history). The dance, its participants "literally driven mad by the noise and the stirring rhythm," was eventually refined into a court dance far from its origins, but it has had an extraordinary history as a musical theme that is traced in detail in the web-site La Folia: A Musical Cathedral.
Geisser and Mazzola decided to call this CD Folía for its spontaneous mixture of madness and control. Just as germane as that central inspiration are the individual titles here, setting the performance in the Aztec world, both mythic and historical, of Mexico City. This interest in Aztec imagery did not begin with the duo's arrival in Mexico. The central solar imagery is apparent a year earlier on the Heliopolis CD, which includes, in addition to the title track, an improvisation called "Xoltl," named for a dog-like Aztec god that led the sun through night to be reborn at dawn. The title of "Fiery Mirror" invokes one of the principal Aztec gods, Tezcatlipoca, or "Smoking Mirror," a transforming deity variously associated with both sun and moon and whose roles ranged from creator to trickster. His worship involved human sacrifice and represented both a primal creative energy and orderly community life.
What is fascinating is how these inspirations tumble over one another into the specific form of this performance in an exchange between the continuous and the transient. What is continuous is the on-going musical relationship between Mazzola and Geisser. It begins in the very architectural stability of their instruments. Mazzola is playing a Boesendorfer Imperial Grand, the most aristocratic of pianos, and he navigates happily in the gravity of its sound. Geisser's drums are augmented here by a very large upright bass drum that he found on the stage of the concert hall. Together they create a music that is rooted in both a shared sense of sonic mass and a contrasting (and sometimes astonishing) quickness of hands. In the long improvisations here, both "The Man of the Sun" and "Sacrifice of the Dancer," the pieces grow in density both through reverberation and the high-speed layering of patterns. The orchestral breadth of sound achieved by the two musicians welds together the larger formal patterns of the pieces with their increasingly concentrated detail.
Among the relevant backgrounds is that traditional motif in jazz history in which progress is described in terms of the "sub-division of the beat." It begins with the two-beat bass and evolves from quarter to eighth to sixteenth note as the basic unit in improvisation through Armstrong, Parker and Coltrane. That process has accelerated in free jazz, time further and further subdividing until jazz has become the cultural form of the particle accelerator. While Geisser's drumming appears initially as a cutting up of time, it is also a multiplication, polyrhythms freely expanding both in themselves and in the elaboration of a phrase from Mazzola. Meter here is both multiple and infinitesimal, arising in the multiplying gaps. This measurement is as much mathematical as psychological, but it is also philosophical (Hegel) and theological (Anselm). This is trance music, dervish dance, where time shudders and explodes into infinite particles, each bearing the trace of its origin and its ecstatic redemption.
It is in the presence of this performance that history and cultural forms enter transiently and dissolve. The sheer mass of the performance suggests monumental architecture, while Mazzola's lyrical introduction to "Sacrifice of the Dancer" makes explicit a Spanish sub-text. Geisser's drum solo near the conclusion of track two is the climax of this ritual movement.
Notions of chaos and order as complementaries, both in the "Folía" and Aztec life, function here as emblem of the continuous processes at work in the music of Geisser and Mazzola. That the Mediterranean roots of the "Folía" are contemporaneous with the summit of Aztec civilization and the Spanish colonization may play out as dark comedy in the final airy spaces of the concluding track. Chaos and order, freedom and structure--those are contraries with which we liberate ourselves from the other.

Stuart Broomer
Fools' Day, 2001
 
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