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Denman Maroney - Double Zero

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Artist: Denman Maroney

Album: Double Zero

Label: Porter

Review date: Nov. 14, 2011

The first time I heard pianist Denman Maroney in the 1990s, he was an indelible part of a great Mark Dresser group, wherein Maroney’s highly evolved and distinctive piano language (he plays “hyperpiano”) knocked me out. While lots of post-Cage pianists will dabble inside the piano, including the use of various “preparations,” this is the heart of Maroney’s approach and he is dazzlingly creative in textural, rhythmic and melodic realms, blending all three elements in pursuit of his singular musical language. It’s been a while since I’ve heard him play solo, though — perhaps not since his fantastic Hyperpiano from 1998 — but this 2008 concert from Roulette is a stunner.

A nine-part suite, Double Zero opens with a skulking, ominous low end ostinato that Maroney locates in what he calls his “undertone series.” What immediately grabs you are Maroney’s compositional tendencies and gift for contrast. He tends to establish a motif or ostinato of some sort, then create a secondary layer of sound within or against it, with the effect suggesting its corrosion or perhaps that it’s running on a beat-up motor. Less frequently, as on “Part II,” Maroney will set up a gentle lyric sequence of chords or droplet notes, accompanying them with serrated metal or effects that sound like Hans Reichel’s daxophone (and, hey, it’s no surprise that Maroney has played with guitarist Hans Tammen).

But most of all, it’s the pianist’s incredible use of overtones that so often creates a singing choral effect, which reminds me in some ways of Arnold Dreyblatt’s excited strings transferred inside the piano. Check out the laser-esque glissandi of “Part III,” as it coheres into a lovely tanbura drone. Even more emphatic is this effect on “Part VIII,” which summons clouds of wafting metal and alien spacecraft, or “Part V,” which is like a shower of metallic fragments from an Alvin Curran piece.

Lest you think Maroney eschews vigorous pianism altogether, though, he lets it fly on several occasions here. He does so most cryptically on “Part IV,” with tons of broken toy piano framed by spectral drones moving in opposite directions. There is some space and near pointillism on “Part VII,” and some dazzling, cyber-Tristano technique on “Part VI.” In the end, though, I’m most compelled by the moments when Maroney very nearly transcends idiom and instrument altogether, matching rhythm with density with harmonic movement and the sounds of emergence and decay, doing so with such intensity that the piano literally sounds like it’s cracking apart or being formed ab novo.

By Jason Bivins

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