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Zlatko Kaučič
NotTwo 96

Slovenian percussionist Zlatko Kaučič might not be a household name, even among diehard readers of PoD, but that really ought to change owing to the release of this superb 5CD collection of his music. Comprised of a series of performances over the last few years, it captures the 65-year-old drawing on decades of experience and collaboration in a series of vibrant settings.

Zlatko Kaučič                     ©Itzok Zupan 2018

The first disc finds him in the company of saxophonist Evan Parker and pianist Agusti Fernandez. Across the seven-part, hourlong “Butterfly Wings,” Kaučič conjures tiny wood sounds, or whooshes from callused palms. When there’s momentum and density, Kaučič often reminds me of Paul Lovens in his use of flat percussive sounds for contrast. He’s given to sharp slashing gestures, swells, and the like, many of which come not just from his just-so tuned kit but from his use of floor percussion – an array of metallophones and noisemakers. The piece moves from somewhat familiar free improvisation – dissonant cluster clouds all the way to hushed reserve – but also into mighty drones and places that seem like sizzling metal, owing largely to Kaučič’s distinctive use of the electric zither. Despite those moments when things seem about to tumble into overdrive, there’s subtlety throughout this hour.

The second disc consists of duos with Parker. They get things started in a compellingly reserved fashion. Parker moves in the dialed-back tenor style he often favors of late, while Kaučič resists developing momentum in favor of a series of changing interjections, usually in the middle of the timbral/dynamic spectrum. When Parker responds to these interjections, it fascinatingly results in a contrapuntal language that leads to some pretty heated moments. The second piece, which comprises nearly 1/3 of the concert, is quite spacious, filled with hushed brushes and tenor trills. There’s even a moment when it sounds as if they’re poised on the brink of serious mischief, when a Roach/Braxton soft-shoe feel leans precariously close to a Clusone-ish explosion. They cycle through what sounds almost like electroacoustic music to understated swing and a frothy, propulsive climax.

Significantly, some of the very finest music on this set comes from the third disc, Kaučič’s solo performance. In this studio shot from 2016, with 9 medium-length tracks, it’s interesting to think about how much of Kaučič’s approach in group settings derives from his solo performance. Unlike some percussion recitals, this one’s not a slog, and it doesn’t allow your attention to wander. “Drive Through Obstacles” opens with the kind of spacious pointillism you hear Kaučič use with Parker, but he supplements it with some gamelan-style pulse and electric zither madness. The low billowing cymbals on “Tonal Flow” bring to mind the spreading of ink in water. “Memories” and “Sip of Story” are raucous and show Kaučič’s range as an improviser and sound-generator, with organlike sounds, walls of metal noise, and clacking machinery. “Pokrovcek” is horror movie electronics with a bestiary of squeaks and whooshes, which gives way to the hushed, reflective tones on “My Home.” The relatively brief “Himna Za Mojo Teto Karlo” is like a 1970s space soundtrack jam, while “Predor” pairs the background hum of a wind tunnel with tightly tuned toms. Everything here is unfailingly dynamic, well-paced, and judicious.

The fourth disc features the largest ensemble in this box, a quartet with alto/soprano saxophonist Lotte Anker, trumpeter Artur Majewski, and bassist Rafal Mazur. Much of the playing here combines the severe aestheticism of Die Enttauschung with more textural, at times even minimalist gestures. In multiple places, this quartet favors a deep dive into droning, buzzing textures like those on “Iconic Thoughts” or “Jara Kaca.” Kaučič again sounds perfectly engaging just on brushes. But both Anker’s tart phrasing and Mazur’s acoustic bass guitar gives things a depth that’s pretty engaging, especially in the scrape-y opening minutes of “Nitke.” Anker has a real instinct for contrast, choosing lines or tones or textures that are meaningfully askance (although she proves that she’s a perfectly simpatico player in tussles with Majewski). In certain places, they seem almost like they’re assembling the building blocks for new elements. Hear this on the flinty “Unison Creation” and the understated, intense “Trte.”

The fifth and final disc is made up of two duos. First is the 4-part “Med-ana” with the late trombonist Johannes Bauer. Bauer’s marvelous techniques – ranging from deliberate punctuations to a wide vocabulary of slurs and drones – make for a fine contrast with Kaučič. Some sections are chirpy and stuttering, while others play with breath and texture. The two are perfectly simpatico, and one wishes for more from this duo. Then the box closes out with a 24-minute duet with vocalist Phil Minton. Minton can be hit or miss with me, depending roughly on the quotient of duck noises in any given performance. This is some of his best work I’ve heard of late. His gift for overtones and contained moaning works quite well with Kaučič’s whorls of sound. And when Kaučič turns to his floor percussion, Minton’s antic flutters fit just so.

It’s an awful lot of music, and of a consistently very high quality. You might come for the well-known players, but I promise you’ll end up impressed with Kaučič most of all.
Jason Bivins

Intakt Records

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