This meeting of the minds was a long time in coming. Guitarist Henry Kaiser and Canadian piano god Paul Plimley are enough of a treat, but add cellist Danielle DeGruttola to the improvisation pool and you have width, depth, and considerable dimension. The music presented on Passwords is far from any recognizable niche in the free improv world. There are no presuppositions, no signals, no preliminary discussions: just music as it presents itself to be played by, and heard through, the hands and ears of the improvisers. Kaiser is remarkably restrained in these proceedings -- though he does manage a few screaming wah-wah freak-outs in "Helpful Disclosures" and "The Hard Decisions" -- and Plimley guides the pair of string players through knotty and unfamiliar terrain by relying on harmonic instinct rather than the ethereal thing itself. Each phrase is fed and commented upon in a staggered manner, where DeGruttola decides not so much what to play, but how it should be played; and Kaiser invents new textures and colors on the spot to further widen the gap between music-making and music-making. The act of tonal and timbral construction is an art pursuant only to itself here; where guitar strings rattle as much as they sing, and piano keys feel pulled instead of pushed as a pizzicato cello solo goes haywire and needs an angular blues run from either player to rectify its straying, wandering nature. All of the notes here have personalities; all of them are establishing identities in relation not only to the instrumentalists who receive them, but to the player who executes them as well. It's a hell of a hide-and-seek game, with occasional forays into communal freak-out. Any sound can and does have a place: just the location and timing matter. What a breath of fresh air this set is. Kaiser, Plimley, and DeGruttola should hang out together more often; we all benefit greatly when they do.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek