Much has changed since Vantdraught 10 Vol. 1. The Kuba Kapsa Ensemble, led by Polish pianist and composer Kuba Kapsa, has grown leaner and more complex, shedding six players as well as the previous album’s rampant repetition. The result is a compact 34-minute set that improves on its predecessor (which we liked!) in every way. The advantage of the reduced repetition is that the new album can be played multiple times (I’m now up to a dozen) without losing its appeal. After a while, certain phrases and mini-choruses rise to the surface, but the nooks and crannies remain shaded, just beyond the field of comprehension. Adding to the appeal is a consistent visual element; although this cover is vastly different from the former, the artistic team of Kahn & Selesnick is the same.
The new quartet retains the violin and piano but swaps the cello, vibraphone and marimba for the clarinet, bass clarinet and trombone. This exchange allows a portion of the music to connect to the larger Vantdraught oeuvre while establishing its own character. One suspects that in future entries the piano will remain safe while the other instruments will shudder, given trade rumors. The irony of the reduction in size is that this seems to result in an increase in sound. The frequent turnover of themes may be the cause, or perhaps the blanket of elongated notes created by wind instruments as opposed to percussive instruments, but this album simply sounds larger than its predecessor.
A delicious contrast is created between the drama of the wind instruments and the pathos of the violin. Whenever one instrument is bookended against the other ~ for example, the end of “No. 3” ~ the mood shifts from triumph to sorrow, like the sudden phrase at the end of an effective poem, providing a tug that churns the heart. An additional effect, most present in “No. 5”, is the battle between the swift and the slow, as one instrument seeks to run ahead like an impatient child while another calls it back, over and over, like a steady-paced parent, until finally the two meet in the middle, neither getting exactly what they want, compromising in order to establish a symbiosis of speed.
Through it all, the piano remains constant, at times nearly invisible yet providing the structure upon which the entire venture rests. Only in the last act does the element of repetition re-enter, this time in the call-and-response of the performers, who swirl around a single theme until Kapsa himself offers a declarative lower-note counterpart, then leaves the final frame unfinished: an extended ivory hand stretching toward the next installment. (Richard Allen)