There is a somnambulant quality to Optics, a kind of waking-life feeling. Søren Kjærgaard, a 29-year-old Danish pianist, recruited bassist Ben Street and the phenomenal drummer Andrew Cyrille for this trio, and, boy, do they listen to one another.
Cyrille, known for his work with the likes of Cecil Taylor and Oliver Lake, is the senior member, and much of what happens revolves around him. The 14-minute title track that opens the CD demands patience from its musicians. Kjærgaard plots out deep, serious chords, employing dramatic pauses as the rumble of mallets on skins establishes the tone. Street picks deliberately on the upper neck of his bass as Kjærgaard then lays down an ascending series of minor chords. A quiet snare roll, a repeated three-key phrase played lightly—this is minimalist bliss. On “Cyrille Surreal,” icy, detached chords play against a reluctant swing rhythm, but things evolve, as they always do, and rowdiness finally replaces inertia.
Some of the song titles are unfortunate (including the aforementioned one). “Mallets”? No, the tune is cleverer, and more fun, than that. Kjærgaard’s staccato notes and chords conjure a movie scene: How about calling it “Gene Hackman chases Tom Cruise through the streets of Memphis”? This idea, piano as percussion, informs much of the album. “Work of Art” has the pianist playing melody and rhythm, despite the fact that it’s a duet—a percussive duet—with Cyrille. The disc ends with the funereal “Radio House Requiem,” an elegy for Danish Radio, which ceased most of its jazz programming last year because of budget cuts. We hope that doesn’t mean Kjærgaard has lost an outlet in his homeland.