The Core-tet Project
Improvisations by Evelyn Glennie, Jon Hemmersam, Szilárd Mezei and Michael Jefry Stevens
The history of Western classical music is filled with a rich legacy of great improvisers. The list is long and profound: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, Handel and many more.
Before the ubiquitous ‘Jazz’ music shorthand there existed the ‘figured bass’ shorthand, which allowed organists and accompanists to perform complex harmonic structures using a numerical language to express specific chords and inversions.
Master percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie adds to this improvising tradition with her new and bold international quartet ensemble. The group brings together musical traditions from four varied cultures (Scotland, Serbia, the United States and Denmark) but with a common goal: to create spontaneous music of great beauty and power which utilises the basic formal elements of musical composition—melody, harmony, rhythm and form.
Each improvised concert is a new and spontaneous work of art, much like the organ duels of the Baroque period and the great cadenzas of the Romantic composers and performers.
The members of The Core-tet Project have a long history between them. Guitarist Jon Hemmersam and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens have been performing and recording together for 25 years. Stevens met violist and composer Szilárd Mezei in 2007 when they both performed at a festival in Kanjiža, Serbia. Jon Hemmersam and Evelyn Glennie recorded their duo CD Sound Spirits in 2012. Mezei, Hemmersam and Stevens recorded their improvised trio CD Upcast in 2009. Mezei and Hemmersam have recorded several CDs together over the past seven years. Upon hearing Upcast, Glennie became determined to join the trio in an improvised quartet recording. This recording took place in November 2016 (eight years after the initial idea). The meeting of these four distinct musical voices was more powerful and profound than anyone expected. The result of that recording is The Core-tet Project.
Michael Jefry Stevens
1 Steel-Ribbed Dance
We come together as the Core-tet for the first time, depicting tangled skeletons striving to break free within a sea of frenetic rhythms and discord, reaching out for a strand of harmonic unity. Do we?
2 The Calling
The repetitive calling from Michael on piano resounds majestically yet pleadingly. Filigree gestures interject on my Array mbira which is a huge kalimba type instrument. This not so common sound produces a type of resonance which is almost an extension to the piano. Jon and Szilárd reach out through their myriad of sound colours that never cease to amaze me. Every sound-gesture they make is dazzlingly clear.
3 Grotesque Fantasy
Mad, twisted, frenetic, schizophrenic—we indulge in the mid and high frequency range, pushing with such frenzy that there seems little relief until the last few seconds making us feel this warped music box has finally wound down.
4 Walk of Intensity
There is intensity and purpose in our improvisation, also impatience. We’re striving for something, relentlessly looking in all directions, turning everything over to see what may be revealed. We each wait our turn to add to the turmoil until eventually we walk the path of intensity.
5 Iron Stars
Szilárd is a master of sound colour on his viola. His extraordinary skill complements the glistening bell-like directness of Michael’s tone and together they create the vision of Iron Stars.
6 Flutter Gaze
Our ‘sound lashes’ are fluttering like mad with insect-like frenzies on a myriad of small drums on top of a timpani head alongside the prongs of my waterphone. Michael and Jon create such longing which halts the nervous energy but together they direct our gaze into the sound horizon. Szilárd reverses that gaze inwards with his dark glissando-like tones; now we’re face to face with our internal landscape.
7 Silver Shore
We all sat there ready to play. Michael began followed by Szilárd and then… the beautiful line and emotion that so effortlessly flowed from their imagination signalled for Jon and myself to simply sit there and be completely immersed in the most captivating moment that left the whole studio silent for several minutes after.
8 The Wake
With the skill of Michael, Jon and Szilárd it’s hard to know which instrument is actually being played as they are so adept at being sound colourists; they treat their respective instruments as an orchestra within itself. The percussive repetitive stabs are almost torture-like, a sound-drug that transcends us into a disillusioned wake.
9 Unseen Fires
The expansive pitch intervals from Szilárd give the feeling of flames rising and falling, sometimes ghost-like. Jon and I almost give a slow-motion feel to these flames with the deliberate crackle from Jon’s guitar and the resonance of my vibraphone.
10 Crystal Splash
The four of us are literally like children with big fat crayons and paint galore splashing sound colours all over the walls, not knowing what the end result will be! But a hint of discipline is ignited as Jon pulls us together; does he succeed in us still wanting to break from the rules?
11 Breath of Validation
There’s an assured sense of acceptance in what we play on this track. Every phrase inhales and exhales with validation.
12 Black Box Thinking
As soon as Szilárd picks up his viola he is a magician! He definitely thinks outside of the box which of course impacted greatly on what and how I played. Together we built sound bridges to became one big instrument. I wonder whether Szilárd would allow me to strike his viola next time?
13 Scissor Shower
Knowing the tremendous speed that Szilárd can pluck on his viola allowed me to explore the high short metallic sounds of my percussion so that everything would merge together. Jon also plays at lightning speed which creates the feel of literally being showered by sharp, jagged scissors!
14 Rusty Locks
There is an unusual creaky, rusty feel to this track. The marimbula, bongo cajon and a small metal log-type drum gives this ‘unoiled’ feel. It merges into a kind of peg-leg quasi-Latin American rhythm which strangely is rather infectious. It was definitely time for a cup of tea after this.