Benedict Taylor and Daniel Thompson

Empty Birdcage Records - EBR001

Deepening their musical alliance, two young veterans of London’s free music scene turn out eight in-the-moment improvisations that stretch the technical limits of their respective instruments without swagger or spiritlessness. Known for their work with everyone from Dirk Serries to Steve Noble, guitarist Daniel Thompson and violist Benedict Taylor structure this work in the sweet spot between their solo forays and group improvisations.

Hallmark of each track is close listening, with each player complementing the other’s thrusts but without setting up a soloist/accompaniment paradigm. Throughout the improvisations take in a variety of pitches, a spectrum of colors from very black to inky dark and a collection of tempos from lento to prestissimo. Sometimes the high-pitched staccato thrusts are upfront or retreat to distant restrained chording. Along the way the guitarist’s slurred fingering swirls alongside the fiddler’s swift strops or Thompson uses his palm to pop percussive judders from the strings and wood.

These hand clenched guitar neck string strums work particularly well on “Sixth Improvisation” in contrast to Taylor’s of triple stopping that hits many strings. After the fiddler’s strident stabs collapse into quiet rubs, they connect with guitar shuffles. The scene-setting introductory “First Improvisation” is also notable as it lays out in miniature many subsequent strategies Taylor and Thompson follow for the duration. Alternating solid and flexible strokes, the string tessitura sometimes spills into contrapuntal dual expositions of twanging guitar frails and scratching spiccato cello pumps, finally combining into a distinctive buzz. While there are oases of melody throughout, more characteristic are passages displayed on “Seventh Improvisation” where an initial slow and quiet interlude becomes speedier and abrasive with narrow arco slices from the viola and finger slides from the guitar. Climaxing as tones swirl between the two, the aligned ending is made up of distinct stops.

Although a defining article of this duo’s art, T'other is not a session to be listened to in one sitting. Guitar and viola duets can only be stretched so far, Instead listen to a couple of improvisations at a time for maximum savoring.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. First Improvisation 2. Second Improvisation 3. Third Improvisation 4, Fourth Improvisation 5. Fifth Improvisation 6. Sixth Improvisation 7. Seventh Improvisation 8. Eighth Improvisation

Personnel: Daniel Thompson (acoustic guitar) and Benedict Taylor (viola)