Hermione Johnson’s name is one we first noticed when she popped up playing prepared piano on the newish Pumice LP, Puddle. But a quick check through her stats reveals a more extensive background in the NZ improvised music scene. She’s got a few CDRs with other free jazz types that predates the Puddle session by years. So sue us!
Due to the damped quality of prepared keyboards, there’s a distinctly percussive element to Hermione’s playing. At times the effect is fully gamelanic, but for the most part her work broadcasts a feel akin to certain modern pianists of the middle 20th Century, with a tone (if not attack) that mirrors Conlon Nancarrow’s work with player pianos.
On this duo improv set, Hemione plays prepare piano on most of the tracks, and Stefan Neville (he, of Pumice, natch) mostly playing drums. It’s a highly intriguing format for performance, and while the music feels more contemplative than explosive, the engagement is deep and the motion is weirdly great.
By naming the album after the weird millipede-like formation that’s used on the rugby league pitch, the pair hints at the fact they’re kicking notes back and forth inside a closed circle, caring less about melodic or harmonic trajectory than the art of contact. And there’s something very human and intimate about their process, in the finest tradition of free chamber music wherever it’s found.
Why aren’t there more free jazz records coming out of New Zealand? Don’t ask us!