David Haney: European Trio/Solo/Live At Schlot

Three contrasting sets from classical composer turned improvising pianist underline the hazard inherent in non-referential playing


David Haney is one of jazz’s Renaissance men, a pianist who studied composition for six years before turning to jazz and becoming an improvising pianist, with numerous recordings both as leader and sideman. Since 2012, Haney has been editor and publisher of the renowned Cadence jazz magazine, now an online quarterly magazine with an annual print edition, devoted to improvised music with a strong line in interviews, profiles and oral history. These three albums appear on one of its subsidiary record labels.

In talking about his music, Haney has referred to the concept of non-referential music, which I assume to be freely improvised music that is within the moment and contained with itself and which refers to nothing exterior or pre-considered or composed.

To some extent that explains the music from the European Trio’s set from Antwerp in Belgium, a music of sudden accelerations and hushed pauses, of dramatic, sometimes violent interventions and long periods of measured calm. Cassiers is a thoroughly independent drummer who provokes Haney into some effective playing but Rombouts is a largely hidden voice, although interesting when heard in the upper registers.  At only a little above 20 minutes, this set is too short to get to grips with this trio, presenting instead a series of snapshots rather than a bigger picture.

The solo set from Portland is more coherent and seemingly more spontaneous, Haney playing live, as the cover says, inside the piano with fingers, elbows and mallets to create a range of percussive and string effects to complement the keyboard. Unlike the tumult of Antwerp, here is its opposite, a personal music of contemplation and quiet, and of a natural development from thought to thought, from note to note. The detail is almost pointilliste, such is each note and sound’s precise impact, but is all adds up to a very coherent improvisation.

The quartet set from Berlin benefits from the presence of multi-reedman Paul Schubert, whose almost vocalised contributions turn the music from pure improvisation into a more atonal abstraction, giving each unnamed track some coherence and form. Meinrad Kneer’s bass is a free-flowing instrument, alive and alert at every moment, while drummer Steve Heather is an innovative and expressive contributor to events. With such vital partners, Haney is often in the background, emerging to produce some thoughtful and succinct interventions. This a thoughtful and deeply impressive set, one to concentrate the mind on the performance and consider its many implications.

[European Trio – Live In Antwerp, Belgium] Tracks 1–10 (22.54)
Haney (p); Nicholas Rombouts (b); Steven Cassiers (d). Live, Club Majestic, Antwerp, 7 November 2005.
Cadence Media Records CMR 018
[Solo: Live At Mississippi Studios, Portland] Tracks 1–7 (36.40)
Haney (p). Live, Portland, Oregon, c.2010.
Cadence Media Records CMR 008
[David Haney Quartet: Live At Schlot In Berlin] Berlin Tracks 1–7 (42.38)
Haney (p); Frank Paul Schubert (reeds); Meinrad Kneer (b); Steve Heather (d). Live, Schlot, Berlin, 10 February 2012.
Cadence Media Records CMR 007