European Christine Wodrascka may not be the most well-known musician on the free improv scene, but that would be because that's not all she does. She is an accomplished and noteworthy classical pianist who has performed with orchestras and chamber groups throughout Europe. As an improviser she has worked with, among others, Fred Frith, Joëlle Léandre, and Fred Van Hove. This is her first solo outing, recorded in 1995 at the Free Music Workshop in Berlin. This recording, Vertical, is strategically titled for the striking ascendancy and descendancy of its compositions. (Also, every title here begins with the letter V.) It is amazing, and not a little intimidating, to listen to a pianist work so systematically on a recording, where each composition fits right on top of the one preceding it without so much as a crack between them. Everything is airtight. This is a woman who is not influenced by Cecil Taylor -- though her playing can be very percussive, very violent. She possesses the improvisational quickness of a Marilyn Crispell but shares the musicological structuralist tendencies of Matthew Shipp. On first listen one is tempted to greet this work with resistance because of its scalular tendencies. But this is merely a distraction, a smokescreen put in place by the composer: The conceptual nature of her method lies in her ability to create large intervals of chorded geometry behind this flimsy front line. The repetition causes a wariness in the listener who is used to free music, but that's exactly what's happening. As the music ascends and descends systematically, the remaining hand pursues a different phraseology dictated by the lapse in intervals or structural architecture of the one playing scales. Once this space is detected, the "scales" fall into the hole and become a basis for the exploration that has been taking place the entire time. As organized as it sounds, Wodrascka's use of arpeggios and scales is clearly unorthodox and actually deconstructs their importance in the vertical musical hierarchy. Harmony is created by what happens in spite of them, not because of them. Also, the emotional depth in her playing is over the top: Each incident of everyday life is ascribed with a musical color or texture; all minutiae contain traces and shapes of emotional -- not merely musical -- discourse. By the record's end, one is left exhausted, in no mood or shape to listen to anything else. This is "difficult music"; it is poetic and therefore abstract by its very nature, and it demands to be listened to honestly, with an open heart and mind. It will be fascinating to watch her development over time.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek