‘To Pianos’ can read as a dedication: an act of celebration of the instrument. But being a pianist, I also read the phrase as something of a supplication. We’ve each hopefully made some kind of peace with our own instruments at home – and if we’re lucky, we may even love them. But whenever we travel to perform, we’re at the mercy of the particular piano we find at the other end. Whatever cosmic force controls this particular lottery, sometimes you just have to pray to it.
All of which makes it remarkable that musicians such as Eve and Kaja sound so utterly distinctive each time they sit at the instrument. But there’s another thing: as pianists, we’re almost always the only one of us on stage; so that on those rare occasions where we do get to play with other pianists, there’s something thrilling about the particular type of selflessness which the situation requires. This, then, is perhaps even more remarkable: that the pianists you hear on these two pianos remain so individual and distinctive, and the same time as they are able to come together to forge something so completely new, shared and selfless. And a true rarity: that they can project such personality in part simply (…but if only it were simple…) by remembering to let the instruments speak for themselves.
We might almost be observing surgery, as they stand working deftly over the innards of their instruments. But at the same time, there’s a kind of glee in the experimentation itself, and this is where the music is assuredly different from surgery: an often-mischievous, always curious ‘what happens if I do this?’ attitude pervades this collaboration, and I for one am happy if doctors don’t think in this way.
If it balances playfulness and rigour in this disarming way, the music similarly exhibits humanity at the same time as celebrating its mechanical aspects. The pianists are brave in wresting out the strange and ugly sounds from their instruments; but in the context of experimental music, are perhaps even more fearless in being free enough also to deal with possibilities such as melody and romanticism. But listen harder, and you may also notice the machines here giving themselves away as living, breathing things: compare the pianos’ changing beauty as their overtone-laden brilliance early on in the album drifts almost imperceptibly towards a more ethereal wooziness later in their working day.
Two pianos, four hands; 176 tuned drums, two harps in boxes: but this doesn’t quite cover it. The listener will probably perceive any number of ‘other’ instrumental sonorities evoked at various stages during this music. If it’s clear that both pianists have the forensic inclination to mine the details of single sounds, they also possess the Ellingtonian conception of symphonic piano playing. Take, for example, the track To Women, and imagine it orchestrated: the exercise somehow seems to complete itself, entirely because the pianism is so replete with colour and nuance, and so immaculately organised with respect to so many musical parameters.
Abstraction and representation; romanticism and asceticism; playfulness and rigour; microscopic and panoramic perspectives; human and machine elements: all of these are in play here, and it would certainly be possible to write plenty more about this unique music. Ultimately, however, this is a special document because what it captures will almost certainly be quite unlike what you hear when you are fortunate enough to hear Kaja and Eve again. And the miracle of this is that when you do, you will still know instantly that it is them.
Recorded during the 57. Jazz Festival Ljubljana, on 2.7.2016, and 1.7.2017 in the Gallus Hall of Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana, Slovenia | Recorded, mixed and mastered by Luis Delgado
Produced by Eve Risser and Kaja Draksler | Executive production by Pedro Costa for Trem Azul | Design by Travassos | Drawings by Eve Risser | Liner notes by Alexander Hawkins