Tristan Honsinger obituary


The cellist and efficiency artist Tristan Honsinger – bony, frenetic, bemusedly Stan Laurel-like – travelled the world’s jazz and improvisation roads for greater than 4 a long time, leaving vivid reminiscences of his virtuosity and inventiveness wherever he went. Possibly alongside the best way, he even inadvertently helped tighten the principles whereby writers might justify hauling out the phrase “inimitable”.

I bear in mind him significantly on the Tub pageant’s elegant 18th-century Guildhall constructing on a jazz weekend within the 2000s. The inelegant maestro performed his solo present as a mysteriously muttering, feet-flapping, theatrically entrancing mixture of order and bedlam, oscillating between wealthy cello harmonies and raspingly summary sounds – veering into devoted mimicry of the raucous conversations of the seabirds on the roof, earlier than diverting into demented pacing of the aisles, pretending to vacuum the ground with the cello. However Honsinger, who has died aged 73, was a really great distance from being a novelty act.

Educated as a classical cellist in his native New England, he had left the US for Canada as a disillusioned 19-year-old in 1969, and relocated to the Netherlands in 1974. Already intrigued by jazz and improvisation, in Amsterdam he joined the orchestra based by On the spot Composers Pool (ICP) report label, and met a circle of gamers who would develop into essential influences and companions for him – Dutch new-jazz pioneers together with the pianist Misha Mengelberg, the drummer Han Bennink, and the saxophonists Michael Moore and Sean Bergin.

Within the later Seventies, he additionally shaped an in depth bond with the English improv-guitarist Derek Bailey, with whom he made his recording debut on the album Duo in 1976.

In Amsterdam, too, he met the dancer and efficiency artist Katie Duck, with whom he shaped a turbulent however deep-rooted artistic and private bond that may final for the remainder of his life. He later adopted her to Italy, the place she had common work, and in a distant Florence farmhouse within the 80s the pair developed their very own agenda of “whole theatre” (adventurous improvised fusions of music, dance, and spoken phrase) and raised a daughter, Ilaria.

Honsinger unfold his wings to Germany’s formidable free-jazz scene, discovering the pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra – and within the 80s, one in all his most vital performing relationships, with the African-American piano colossus Cecil Taylor. Taylor, like Honsinger, was an artist of obsessively unflinching resolve coupled with a virtuosic spontaneity that drew on jazz and blues roots.

A trio encounter in Berlin with Honsinger and the virtuoso saxophonist Evan Parker on 30 June 1988 throughout Taylor’s much-acclaimed month-long sojourn within the metropolis (recorded and launched by the FMP report label as The Fireplace) got here to be regarded in avant-jazz circles as an epic instance of immediate ensemble composition in motion, with Honsinger’s hovering bowed chordwork and Parker’s refined modal traces each releasing the pianist’s headlong virtuosity and welcoming his creativity to bloom inside their constraints.

Within the 90s and into the twenty first century, Honsinger labored in Italy with former members of Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, a genre-busting experimental composers’ ensemble, led his personal teams with Moore and Bergin, performed alongside Bennink within the saxophonist Tobias Delius’s quartet, 4Tet, and based his personal ensemble, This, That and the Different.

He additionally engaged with Germany’s rising electronics and performance-art motion Ecktzeit (“real-time”), and briefly moved to Berlin to analyze it. Wherever excitingly unfamiliar music was taking place was house to Honsinger, who lived in 4 European nations over 5 a long time in pursuit of it.

Honsinger was born in Burlington, Vermont, the eldest of six kids of Mildred, a pharmacist, and Jackson, a trainer. Mildred dreamed of her eldest kids forming a string quartet, although solely Tristan, who took up cello on the age of 9, enthusiastically embraced the self-discipline. On the household’s transfer to Springfield, Massachusetts, he attended faculties together with Classical Excessive.

His mother and father listened to Billie Vacation, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter in addition to classical music, so the younger musician’s listening was already large when he arrived on the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and subsequently the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

Collisions with conservatoire guidelines culminated in Honsinger’s cello trainer at Peabody telling him: “You’ll be able to’t play like Pablo Casals, it’s important to play like me.”

This, and the US authorities’s conscription of younger males for service in Vietnam, triggered him to go away in 1969 for Canada, the place he busked on the streets of Montreal, found the music of Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman, and by probability got here throughout the 1970 Evan Parker/Derek Bailey/Han Bennink album The Topography of the Lungs, a revelation of the expressiveness of free improvisation that surprised him. 4 years later, Honsinger travelled to Amsterdam.

Over greater than 4 a long time after that migration, he performed 20 gigs a 12 months or extra with the ICP till his closing months and he additionally explored improv/avant-rock music often in addition to having fun with workshops and instructing.

In 2000, Honsinger recorded maybe his most attribute album, the unaccompanied A Camel’s Kiss – a tumultuous mixture of wordless vocals, cello improv, glimpses of jazz, JS Bach, Kurt Weill, and Gypsy music.

Into the twenty first century he additionally relished the quartet music he described as “like 4 languages happening”, with Delius, the German trumpeter/electronicist Axel Dörner, and the Italian bassist Antonio Borghini.

In 2019, Honsinger’s bodily and psychological well being deteriorated. Identified with liver most cancers, he relocated near relations in upstate New York for therapy.

He resumed touring as his situation improved and the Covid-19 pandemic handed. He wrote a ebook, Wander and Marvel (2021), a group of handwritten tales, aphorisms, poems and dialogues, and an in depth discography.

Like his kaleidoscopic performances through the years, the ebook confirmed why Honsinger would cheerfully declare Lewis Carroll, Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton to be his main artistic influences, fairly than any musicians.

When requested by the US jazz journal Cadence in 2016 concerning the relationship between humour and artwork, Honsinger tellingly replied that he didn’t just like the phrase ‘‘artwork” however most popular the phrase “humour”, “as a result of it’s not solely clever, it’s mainly how we are able to relate to one another”.

A brand new ICP tour reawakened Honsinger’s long-term psychological well being points, which he had self-medicated since his 30s with medicine and alcohol, and he once more returned to the US for therapy.

Pals, household, and a crowdfunded attraction to followers for monetary assist enabled Honsinger to pay for his remedy and a flat in Trieste, and drew him again to the street. However a performing journey to Europe and Japan earlier this summer season was to be his final.

Honsinger is survived by Katie, Ilaria and a granddaughter, Laura, and by his sisters, Jennie and Louise, and brother, Jon.


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