Recorded in 1971 for the French America Recording label, Improvisie captures pianist Paul Bley, Annette Peacock, and master percussionist Han Bennink in concert in Rotterdam. Bley plays electric piano and synthesizer here, with Peacock playing both electric and acoustic piano, synthesizer, and electric bass as well as singing. There are two pieces on the set, the elegiac title cut, which is nearly 14 minutes in length, and the much more adventurous “Touching,” which is nearly 24.
Peacock is clearly the force behind “Touching”; it is her pace, her piano lines, and her sense of time that unwind it from its elementals. When she begins to sing about six minutes in, the work becomes something else entirely: a new song form, or a new framework for it. Her poetic lyric illustrates the music rather than vice versa; whether she is crooning, droning, or emoting powerfully at the margins of her voice, the sheer musicality and ghostly richness in her approach are captivating and beguiling. Bley’s filling the spaces between her verses ranges from lilting melodic interplay to harsher, grinding tones that respond to Bennink’s manic yet taut and gentle percussive dance. The industrial sounds that begin to assert themselves about halfway through never quite overpower the musicality inherent in the piece’s foundation. Even 35 years later, “Touching” is still a brave and uncompromising work, one that asks as many questions as it answers, and one that renews its freshness with each repeated listening.