When Mirko Guerrini asked me to write the liner notes for the Horizontal Quartet CD, I was surprised. I have known Mirko for many years. We have played together, shared musical adventures, projects and productions in the most diverse and stimulating contexts.
I hope that my writing about his music will do justice to the outstanding mastery of the ensemble’s music (Andrea Keller on piano, Tamara Murphy on double bass and Niko Schäuble on drums)
My approach is not to judge a musical work, akin to the music critic who, like a public prosecutor, places the music in the dock. As the philosopher Giovanni Piana reminds us: "the conclusive reaction of listening does not necessarily have to be a judgment" (Barlumi per una filosofia della musica, Lulu.com
, 2013, p. 134). My attitude will be that of the listener who revels in the sound and appreciates its richness. The listener, like the improviser, should respond to the imperative "Stay in the moment!". Listening into the present means letting the sounds and silences flow with an active attitude.
Several aspects become immediately clear when listening to the music of the Horizontal Quartet: the counterpoint nature of improvisation; nonlinear temporality and refined compositional skills. Each musicians’ contribution follows the principle of "horizontal" improvisation, which is based on the melodic intertwining of the voices rather than on the harmonic structure of the piece. The compositions show musical solutions that reminds one of the nonlinear temporality (please also refer to J. Kramer, The Time of Music, Schirmer Book, New York, 1988). The music is highly interesting from the compositional point of view as the complexity of the writing doesn’t interfere with the clarity of listening.
Each piece has its own compositional and performative identity. The harmonic solutions of "Song 1" are derived from the melodic, flowing elegant path. The chord changes do not have an obvious hierarchy. Rather the harmonic degrees yield to the chromaticism with the precise intention of enhancing the melodic development. The melody, in the two A sections, glides gently from the high to the low register. The accompanying chords, all minor harmonies, appearing in root position provides a solid support and linearity to this descent. Chord inversions only appear in the Bridge, where the melodic contour is slightly turbulent before returning to safety again in the last repetition of A section. Here a metric surprise awaits as the melody seems to slow down and 3/4 and 4/4 time signatures alternate.
Guerrini's writing brims with small details that embellish the musical texture without making it overly complex. Both Andrea Keller and Tamara Murphy show remarkable melodic fluidity and a well considered use of legato that generates an strong sense of rhythmic and sonic liquidity.
The musical intensity at the beginning of the song of "5 Dicembre" has the flavour of a memory. Then the song takes shape. Heterogeneous stylistic solutions of classic counterpoint writing combine with a South-American rhythm. The piano and double- bass duet is very beautiful, negotiating this cross-stylistic challenge with extreme delicacy. Guerrini's great compositional attention to details is revealed again in the use of the harmonically suspended ending, where a reprise of the theme would traditionally have been expected.
In "Circular Motion" the melody repeats itself, returns to itself and draws an arc that starts from Eb, progressively descending to bar 6, the exact midpoint of the A section, before progressively rising back up to rejoin the initial Eb. Guerrini often loves to "draw" melodic lines; specific interval solutions are subsidiary to the melodic contour and its form. Guerrini's solo is an example of improvisational linearity, and when, perhaps by accident, the sound of his saxophone becomes dirty, it becomes a compositional element, an improvisation tool initiating further development.
In "Song 2", the longest song, the counterpoint style, in which the harmonic complexity seems to disappear, thanks to the melodic pace furnished by the musicians. The song contains 22 different chord structures only one of which is repeated. At the start of the piece Andrea Keller constructs a masterful piano solo of considerable virtuosity, consisting of arpeggios, rhythmic cells, unexpected accents, dissonances and recurring patterns, all performed with extreme fluency.
"Sleep Cycles" (by Andrea Keller) is a tribute to Richard Wagner and the harmonic progression of 'Sleep Music' included in the opera Valkyrie. Saxophone and bass alternate with the piano. The piano is a pivotal instrument here, a compositional elements, both in the foreground and the accompaniment.
"Elegy for Stefano" is dedicated to the saxophonist Stefano Bartolini, who died much too young. Bartolini often collaborated with Guerrini (for example in the Millennium Bug's Orchestra). This song is a dedication to delicacy and serenity, brought out by the sweetness of the harmonic progressions. "Elegy for Stefano" is a song that hovers in suspension. A song that slowly rests - no one knows where - before disappearing without ever touching the ground. The final two bars of the piece allow the harmonic texture to resonate, without a melody, as if the music has given way to the beauty of memories and their reverberation.
The successful result of this song depends in great part on the skills of the musicians, in particular Tamara Murphy on double-bass and drummer Niko Schäuble. Schäuble’s playing is always pervaded by a sense of extreme essentiality. This embellishes all the tracks on the CD and contributes significantly to the unique timbre of the Horizontal Quartet.
Over the years Guerrini has already proved that he is a great saxophonist. I would like to mention a characteristic of Guerrini's musical poeticism that applies to the role of the musician and the listener. Mirko is first of all a great musician and then a saxophonist.
It is generally agreed that the expressive and communicative vector emanates from the musician and points towards the listener who enjoys the music and becomes deeply involved. When listening to Mirko play it seems that the musician and the listener become as one. It is not a question of simply playing inside or outside, in the technical meaning of this expression. Rather Mirko immerses himself in the musical flow, guided by the impromptu creation of music. He takes the listeners by the hand and accompany them through his music. As Mirko's melodic phrases ascend he becomes the author and witness of his music. Now he is with the listener and both the musician and the listener sit together enjoying the music. There is a slight irony in this process as Guerrini is projected beyond his own saxophone, directly contact with the music.
Furthermore, Guerrini demonstrates a remarkable compositional capability. His works consist of intervallic solutions, a wise use of modulations, a strong awareness of the harmonic tensions of the various tonal degrees, of extreme formal clarity and expressive intensity. Mirko's writing is clear, clean and effective; he knows how to balance compositional complexity without making his music difficult to listen to. Here attention to detail is never an end in itself, no element has a narcissistic value.
The extreme melodic density, characteristic of all the songs, is used by the ensemble as a structural element of the music. This in turn generates a nonlinear solution: a sound consisting of multiple temporal directions.
Harmonic changes and melodic solutions create tensions and continuous resolutions; the result is a music that inebriates, involves and envelops, cherishes and transports. What becomes memorable when listening to the 'Horizontal Quartet' is not a melodic fragment or a harmonic progression, not even some formal solutions, such as the alternation of the solos which remain traditional, but the quality of the intertwining of various elements, both horizontal and vertical, combined with the ability to open musical temporalities that sometimes follow each other and sometimes coexist in the listening,
Mirio Cosottini, Italy, August 2020.