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Agusti Fernandez and Peter Kowald: Sea of Lead

Even the best free improvisation is hit or miss. Disregard for the listener is implicit. On the other hand, most fans of the music understand and even respect such self-indulgence. They know if they’re willing to slog through the dross, they’re bound to stumble upon something revelatory. This album begs such consideration. The seven-part title suite that opens it has plenty of dross: namely, an exploitation of the noisiest, most abrasive, biting-on-tinfoil sounds from Fernandez’s prepared piano and Kowald’s bass. Other episodes, however, transcend novelty and verge on the sublime.

Fernandez is at his best when he combines the sound-altering manifestations of the prepared instrument with his formidable conventional chops. Kowald is also more interesting when he leans less heavily on extended technique and exploits his instrument’s more musical traits. Best are the disc’s latter tracks, where the pair better integrate their sonic intrepidness with a sophisticated sense of line. It’s an uneven album, but with as many hits as misses.

Originally Published