Kinetic Conversations (Keith Humble, Bert Turetzky) by Arjun von Caemmerer

Kinetic Conversations, Keith Humble & Bert Turetzky
Move Records, Catalogue #MD 3352
Available on iTunes

Review by Arjun von Caemmerer

As the oenophiles are wont to declare, 2013 was a good year. I refer here not to the sparkling gems of the newly pressed, but to a trio of vintages I sampled last year which retrospectively establish 1974, 1979 and 1986 as corkers, fit to be cellared for future release. Whilst two of these draughts were first aired in 2012, it was only in 2013 that the swirl of their ferment poured into the cups of my opened ears.

First decanted was Zappa’s Finer Moments (2012), his double LP of 1974. Why this—despite being ready, willing and able to flow—was upended obscurely in a corner of his Kitchen, will remain known only to the Chef. A clue to this case might exist in the whimsical title of the percussion duets Enigmas 1–5 contained therein. This album, inarguably a magnum of the opus, is yet another of those assemblages which Zappa constructed to pressing stage but never unleashed in his lifetime. If these be the tip of his Homberg, long may he doff!

Perhaps re-watching the BBC’s Spooks was responsible: the second cab off the ranks infiltrated me entirely through the intriguing excellence of its savvy title, the dark and rubaceous S L E E P E R. This 2012 ECM offering, a concert from Tokyo, 1979, featuring Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Palle Daneilsson and John Christensen, shares not only the same personnel, month and venue with Personal Mountains, ECM’s 1989 release, but also four of the same song titles. The varietal that is S L E E P E R compares very favourably with its predecessor: by presenting some of the same compositions in a different mixage, it manages to unsettle the foundations of their established familiarity, permitting many nuanced and flavoursome saccules, previously submersed, to bubble up to the surface.

The third album, Kinetic Conversations, is an extraordinary and rare find, a heady 100%-proof concoction distilled once and only in the off-hours of a March afternoon at the University of California, San Diego, in 1986. Let loose in the lab were two electric and eclectic and eccentric maestri: the Visiting Professor, Australian Keith Humble, on piano and electronics and Bunsen burner, and the Resident Professor, American Bertram Turetzky, on mortar and pestle and contrabass. Turetzky: The afternoon that the recording happened was a time between students. I asked KH if he would like to improvise and he was up for it. We found a good room with a grand piano. Out of the blue I found the dept recording guy and set up the session simply as a fun thing–period!!!

What can I say about this Elixir? Prior to this album all that I had heard of Keith Humble’s playing dated from a live recording made at La Trobe University in 1993, a CD on which he happily juxtaposed his own Eight Bagatelles (1992) with Béla Bartók’s Fourteen Bagatelles and Franz Liszt’s Bagatelle sans tonalité. It was, therefore, no surprise to see references to a kindred spirit in the title of the opening track We Know Webern, a glistening gem that seems unearthed from the same ground as the glancing blows and bare outlines of Webern’s Six Bagatelles for String Quartet. Though fully improvised, it sounds thoroughly composed, a music of abrupt shifts and razorial edits, snatches and snippets of filigreed condensate, pockets of hockets. Histoire dance, the album’s penultimate track, nods again in Webern’s direction, now to Stravinsky, and his jaunty l’Histoire du Soldat. Stravinsky’s rhythmic pulse is recognizable in the ostinato bounce of Turetzky’s bass, whilst Humble’s wayward hybrid spins a sideward dance, a vodka-sot devilry that miscegenates the original’s tango and ragtime, waltz and march.

Bursting out of these two’s unsquared brackets, the music springboards in all directions, wild and unpredictable, reflecting the shared sympathies and stomping grounds of this dynamic duo: jazz, elemental sound, noise, intuition, humour, virtuosity. Time and again as I listen, I ask: how did that get there? Elements succeed which seem as though they shouldn’t work: Extremes’ cartoonish character—like the soliloquizing of a steroidal R2D2—simultaneously reprises a liquid mathematics that totally adds up. Turetzky may not be familiar with the stretched elastic decay of Zia Mohiuddin Dagar’s rudra vina (no relationship at all to rubra vino!) but sounds which are similarly languid and lyrical spill through Space and The sound of bass. An edgy Paul Giger seems to hover, briefly, in the margins of the repeated iterations of Turetzky’s One-note slap resonating inside Humble’s piano. But, whilst no verbal description of this music can match listening to it—after all, how can one adequately recount the alien vocalese of The Meeting; the insect-and-water dialogues of Slide; the guttural expectorations and ruminating traffics of Wait?—the titles of these Kinetic Conversations illuminate the process and outcome of this experiment. Wait and Quiet acknowledge the requirement of receptive listening to such music-making; Meeting and Where to? chart the dynamic of uncharted discovery; Extremes and Dark describe the result.

Perhaps it is Turetzky and Humble’s joint capacity to jettison ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ that underlies their obviously joyous abandon, and gives them a fearless freedom to converse fluently and articulately in novel languages. This album restores true meaning to the term ‘vocation’ by documenting the actual inseparability of research and teaching, improvisation and composition, and holds all of its fingers up to those who can only see academia as the ultimate sinecure of the ossified, where the books and the rugs and the dust go to die.

The emergence of this archival recording on Melbourne’s Move Records seems predestined: not only does ‘kinesis’ mean ‘movement’, but Keith Humble’s humorous titles for his own late Bagatelles each and all point to movement: Moving; o = 72; Very slow, molto rubato; Move It; Agitato; Bounce easily (and intimately); Very slow, Rubato; Quick. And moving behind the scenes, instrumental in the 2013 emergence of Kinetic Conversations is yet another trio: Tony Gould, pianist and composer; Martin Wright, Move’s founder in 1968; and Jill Humble, Keith Humble’s widow. Turetzky: The tape got lost in the Turetzky archives for several yrs. I found it and checked it out. I was surprised and excited. After a while I sent to olde friend Tony Gould. TG REALLY LIKED IT AND RANG UP M.WRIGHT AT MOVE. WELL—-it was picked up and brought out in an elegant manner. KH’s wife Jill helped shepard (sic) the project along.

Martin Wright writes: One of the aims of the company is to record not only living composers but also to rediscover composers (and compositions) of the past who have yet to make it into the digital era. Wright’s vision is right, but he surpasses his aim: Keith Humble died in 1995 and this recording is the best possible tribute to one who did so much for Australian music: it rediscovers him, still living, warm and breathing.



Kinetic Conversations on Move Records

Purchase the Kinetic Conversations on iTunes

More from Arjun von Caemmerer on