Umlaut Records ub005

Lillschwerdt John Russell/Ståle Liavik Solberg

No Step

Hispid Records HSPD 002

While for some the notion may seem like defining the variances between the New Orleans and Chicago schools of Classic Jazz, these guitar-drums duo CDs infer that there’s undoubtedly a sonic chasm between so-called traditional Free Music and what could be called contemporary Free Music.

Certainly the duo of British guitarist John Russell and Norwegian percussionist Ståle Liavik Solberg on what is evidentially a live session faithfully preserve one 33-minute improvisation exactly as it was created. On the other hand, the Berlin-based duo of guitarist Hannes Buder plus Hannes Lingens, who plays drums and objects, recorded their four-movement, almost 41-minute program over two months, later editing and mixing the sounds as they’re now heard on this release. Thus each CD sounds radically different despite a similarity in instrumentation. In terms of emotions expressed and story told, each variant is equally valid however.

What’s most prominent throughout No Step is the constant sharpness of Russell’s guitar attack whether involved in vigorous rasgueado friction or fluidly squeezing individual tones from his strings. His fall back is staccato pacing, much of it scraped from strings below the bridge. Solberg’s tuned and tempered idiophones are utilized in somewhat the same manner. Rattles, rolls ruffs and ratchets blend into percussive polyrhythm, the better to frame the guitarist’s narrative. But the drummer is equally capable of limiting himself to individual random thumps to make a point.

Concentrating cumulative droplets of string scrubs and drum rubs into an upturned showcase, the improvisation eventually reaches a crescendo of free-form bellicosity from Russell, to the extent that it appears he’s scouring the finish from his wound strings as he plays. Without upsetting the interaction however, the percussionist’s cymbal taps and drum-top rattles presages equivalent calming vibrations from the guitarist. Finally attaining a better balanced linkage, the finale confirms the staccato power plus thrilling spaciousness of bare-bones improv.

London-based Russell, who has worked with perceptive musicians including saxophonists John Butcher and Evan Parker since the early 1970s, has probably decided that this acoustic, un-processed, warts-and-all proposition is the proper way to express free improvisation. Oslo-based Solberg, whose playing partners include saxophonist Martin Küchen and keyboardist Steve Beresford, likely agrees with him. In sharp contrast, following a mainly acoustic “First Movement”, the [ro] folk take an obstinately divergent approach to achieve their improvisational ends. For a start Lingens, who is also an accordionist, has worked with composers such as Peter Ablinger and Philip Corner as well as improvisers such as electronics manipulator Christof Kurzmann and guitarist Olaf Rupp. Meanwhile Buder has been involved with the Berlin Composers Orchestra as well as conceptionalists such as cellist Audrey Chen. Consequently the idea of creating this CD’s four tracks out of extracts from three recording sessions is familiar territory

Paradoxically however, Buder’s choice of up-front frailing, line distortion and chromatic motions throughout mean that his guitar takes on more of the properties and intonation associated with so-called mainstream guitar playing than Russell’s more idiosyncratic style. In fact, while Lingens may consistently break up the tempo with polyrhythms and time dislocation, the guitarist’s approach is straightforwardly linear. Still Rock-affiliated distortion which is hinted at in “First Movement” dovetails into a crescendo of electro-acoustic exposition by the second movement; and reaches a zenith of oscillating drones by the “Fourth Movement”. Here the calibrated processes which have previously been expressed in parallel impulses from kettle drum-like thrashing plus jagged string strokes jam together like pulsating neurons. The ensuing interface brings a distinctive theme to the forefront. Descriptively soundtrack-like, while bringing out the most dramatic impulses from the paced electro-acoustic program, the final sequence impresses with its multiphonic audacity as it highlights a gratifying bonding and conclusion.

After nearly a half-century of development Free Music, like Bebop and Dixieland before it, now has its conventions. By uniquely evolving with them Russell’s and Solberg’s CD produce memorable results. Adding durable, more electrified textures relating to folklore, Rock music and electro-acoustic advances allow Buder and Lingens to create a correspondingly dynamic disc in a similar genre.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: No: 1. No Step

Personnel: No: John Russell (guitar) and Ståle Liavik Solberg (drums and percussion)

Track Listing: [ro]: 1. First Movement 2. Second Movement 3. Third Movement 4. Fourth Movement

Personnel: [ro]: Hannes Buder (guitar) and Hannes Lingens (drums and objects)