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CD Feature/ Keith Kramer: "Casual Dualism"

img  Tobias
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The title of this album suggests a difficult listen, but even though it might not be the kind of music you would want to play over an early breakfast, it by no means represents a predictably obstinate work of the Avantgarde: For those willing to approach his music with open ears, Keith Kramer really delivers on the dualism promised in the headline.

You could make things easy for yourself by claiming that Kramer is a dualistic personality from the beginning and that everything he writes will thus naturally manifest itself accordingly. Currently working as a Visiting Professor at Harford Community College, he fulfills the simultaneous professions of teacher and composer, of the man in the suit on the black and white picture in the booklet and the full-colour dude cooly strumming his electric guitar in front of a pastoral window view on his website. He writes for small-scale ensembles and for full-size orchestras. He is enamoured by the freedom of Jazz and the precision of classical formalism. In short, Kramer is not a living paradox, but the very epitomisation of the multipolarity of our contemporary society.

The notion even continues into the concept for the album, as it comprises of both programmatic and more abstract work. On the one hand, there is “Dualism”, a four-movement piece for trombone, saxophone and string quartet. Rooted in Buddhist spirituality and taking in African and Asian examples of its main theme, it is a composition moved by the breath of its underlying motive. Dualism is explored through the contrast between improvised and pre-composed sections, by means of timbral differences and the juxtaposition of solo- and ensemble-passages as well as through more introspect and extrovert moods.

“Causality” also works with juxtapositions, even more drastically so. Each of its segments is split into various sub-parts or sections. Each of these sections can be enjoyed on its own and the piece as a whole could be regarded as a smoothly arranged sequence of insular moments. On the other hand, it also invites its audience to find connections and interrelations between its elements and weaves a red thread of necessity – even though what follows is rather a logical conclusion of what preceeds it than a musical transformation in the traditional sense.

It is Kramer’s achivement that he doesn’t hide from the musical implications of his theoretical foundation, but never replaces composition with mere intellectual constructs either: To make a point, you first need to find a basis for communication, after all. His music is freely tonal and integrates 12-tone-aspects as seamlessly as free improvisation, but much more than harmonic concepts, it is the art of arrangement which is vital to his writing. Through form, Kramer’s scores edge forward, developping momentum and speed, even at times where the music seems to stand still. Here, rather than in chordal languge, one can find his unmistakable contribution.

Repeated rhythmical patterns also play a part, weaving outwardly different material together and sometimes disappearing alltogether, leaving pieces hanging in a suspended state for a while, until the groove kicks back in. And then, of course, there is the inclusion of sudden outbursts of tremendous vitality in a Jazz idiom, a stream of consciousness pouring forth from the fabric of the pieces like a sudden streak of genius.

Kramer has not made things easy for himself. To make these different aspects come together without them sounding comical must have represented some hardships and so must the task of making them come alive in an emotional way. The thought that he must have both loved and hated the implications of this decision is nicely dualistic, but I doubt it will have helped him much in acomplising this rich and rewarding work.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Keith Kramer
Homepage: MMC Recordings

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