horizontal line

Kaufmann’s previous solo recording, Later, was a creative treatment of song-material from Duke Ellington to Bob Dylan. Mnemon has a very different ethos – more like the uncompromising free playing with bassist Olie Brice found on their Babel release Of Tides.

Mnemon features freely improvised music which couldn’t have happened without jazz, but its jazz basis takes time to become apparent. It’s almost as if Kaufmann has two personas: jazz and free modernist. There are other pianists with a duality between straight- ahead (song-based) and freer styles – Alex von Schlippenbach, Aki Takase, Alex Hawkins and Andrew Hill – but in their cases, the free styles have more overt jazz content. Kaufmann’s range is broader than Andrew Hill, or even Cecil Taylor.

‘The Temperature Of Distance’ has a clear jazz basis – after two minutes it resolves into a rumbling, bluesy vamp with antecedents in Taylor and Hill. The quirky, strangely familiar ‘European Poker’ is closest to song form. ‘Craquelure’ is a ferocious exploration of heavy, rolling chordal textures.

I’ve been referring to ‘free improvisation’, but as so often, this freedom is qualified. Kaufmann says: ‘All the pieces are improvisations – nothing was written – but in preparing for [Mnemon], I had been working on certain sonic or textural areas. How [the pieces] would unfold was a matter of decision-making in the moment’. There are suggestions of the kind of technical focus found in the studies of Debussy and Ligeti – I’m reminded of the latter on ‘Absence Above’.

The disc features artwork by Kaufmann’s wife, Gabriele Guenther, who provides four of the titles of the pieces – their duo album Loitering – disrupted appeared recently. The pianist explains that ‘in some ways the musical structures and sounds [on Mnemon] are influenced by the poems’ structures and imagery’. Certainly, this is poetic playing with a depth that repays much repeated listening.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


   Read full review   


To continue reading, please upgrade to a premium account. You will have immediate full access.



Read more classical music reviews online here:



Piano International, 2019 - ©Rhinegold Publishing