When I first encountered Punkt.Vrt.Plastik two years ago in Berlin, I thought they were making the most intellectually challenging piano-trio music I’d ever heard. Their late-night concert, in a darkened auditorium, was an intense experience, highly rewarding but perhaps more impressive than enjoyable. At the Vortex last night, without changing any of the components of their music, they managed to reverse that response.
They are the Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, the Swedish bassist Petter Eldh and the German drummer Christian Lillinger, three of the most compelling young musicians in Europe. It was Eldh who explained their name to me: “Punkt means ‘dot’ in Swedish. Vrt means ‘garden’ in Slovenian. Christian represents the Plastik.” All clear?
There are no standard tunes, no Radiohead covers. Their original compositions, contributed by all three members, can sometimes proceed from the deliberate simplicity of a repeated single note, but they tend to emphasise the dense and knotty, which made the pronounced variations of density heard in last night’s performance all the more effective. It’s often hard to tell what is is written and what is being improvised; the occasional loose end left by these three virtuosi is a sign that spontaneous creativity is being exercised within the essential framework.
Draksler plays without affectation or stylistic gesture. The purity of what she does is one point of the triangle: the others are Eldh’s power and flexibility and Lillinger’s sense of space and timbre. At the end of their second set they returned for an encore: a version of Eldh’s “Life Is Transient” which glowed like a vision of rapture. It’s the closing track of their fine album, but last night’s reading showed how far they’ve since come in infusing a sometimes daunting complexity with human warmth. The prolonged ovation suggested that no one present will forget it quickly.
* The album Punkt.Vrt.Plastik is on the Intakt label.