Muze, Gil Gershman
Veterans of New York City's "downtown" jazz and contemporary music scene, Earl Howard and Denman Maroney have been friends since their days as composition students at Cal Arts. The two musicians share an interest in extended instrumental techniques and in improvisation within the parameters of composition. Maroney's "hyperpiano" approach takes the piano beyond its 88-key tonal range as he plays the instrument-from within and without-using such resourceful implements as knives, bowls, mallets, bottles, and potato mashers. In his alto sax and Kurzweil synth playing, Howard strives for novel treatments of timbre, texture, and technique.

Howard and Maroney each contribute a pair of solo and duet compositions to FIRE SONG. Maroney's dynamic solo "UnCaged Bacchanal" presents hyperpiano's fantastic slithering, sliding, and spiraling signatures and watered-metal sonorities in dazzling contrast to traditional low-note figures and trickling treble motifs. The sax solo "Orchid" introduces Howard's restless exploration of mid-range melodies and elaborately overlapping phrases. Of the duos, Maroney's "Pulse Field" is the more "musical," leading Howard's convoluted sax into progressively less definable hyperpiano provinces. Howard switches to synthesizer for the extraordinary abstraction of "Fire Song," matching the metaphysical ruckus of Maroney's deft keyboard-and-wire maneuvers with an equally unearthly electronic spectrum.

Blow Up, Stefano Bianchi
Maybe the words of the author of our 'record of the year 1999' (Dean Roberts) will not be enough for you to try to obtain this cd. Maybe also because it's so difficult to obtain, and also because no other magazine will speak about it here in Italy, because it arrives on a small -- but already extraordinary --label without distribution in our country. What a shame!

Earl Howard (he's played with Derek Bailey, Han Bennink, Takehisa Kosugi, George Lewis and Richard Teitelbaum, but has rarely recorded) plays alto sax and synth; Denman Maroney gives life to his Hyperpiano, a piano whose strings are played with various wood, metal, rubber objects, plastic bottles, knives,...('not' a prepared piano). The two have played together sporadically since 1975, when they recorded a version of Stockhausen's Kurzwellen with the Negative Band. The first two pieces of their cd are a duet for hyperpiano and synth and a solo for hyperpiano. Nothing here that reminds us of already known releases: the piano seems to become a guitar, a gamelan percussion, a microscopic 'microwave', a banjo, an organ, and plays with a synth, also unusual and unpredictable.

It's jazz that becomes contemporary music and vice versa, that sometimes recalls John Wall's sonorities; 'wagnerian crescendos' which become so little and intimate and then disappear. 'Pulse field' is another duet, with the thunderous and heavy sounds of the piano, echoed by a shy conversing sax. At the end, a solo sax piece, 'Orchid', quite classical and a bit distant from the mood of the preceeding pieces, sometimes nocturnal, melancholic and conversational. Keep an eye on Erstwhile and its releases: it's one of those little labels (Boxmedia, Gentle Giant, Tautology, Slub, Jumbo, Intransitive) that let us dream of really unimagined new possibilities for improvised music.

Opprobrium, Nick Cain
Earl Howard and Denman Maroney are NY-based improvisers of long standing their association goes back 25 years but short documentation; the pairs conflated discography lists only a Howard solo disc on Georg Grawes Random Acoustics label. Fire Song hence, inevitably, has something of an introductory feel, and is evenly divided: each gets a solo piece, and each gets credit for one of two duos. The first pits Howards synthesiser against Maroneys hyperpiano (his term for playing the strings of an unprepared piano with various objects) in a wild and wiggy workout; Howard shifts to alto sax for the second, lending proceedings a more traditional jazz/improv air. Maroneys gets to show off the hyperpianos range of trick on his UnCaged Bacchanal solo spot, and Howard rounds things off nicely with Orchid, a literate and accomplished alto solo. An impressive disc, introducing two names who, in future days, will surely become increasingly familiar.