May 15, 2024

Still Dancing
Empty Birdcage EBR 010

Phil Durrant/Daniel Thompson
Bead 49

Part of  the young veteran coterie of British free musicians, guitarist Daniel Thompson has already racked up a resumé that includes work with Steve Noble and Colin Webster among many others. Expanding his collaborators are these duo sessions, one of which is with a trio. The reason for that apparent oxymoron is that Still Dancing features not only veteran alto saxophonist Caroline Kraabel, now involved with the One Orchestra New and Thompson’s guitar, but also any audible sounds from the voice and movements of dancer Max Reed, who has participated in similar improvisations during the MOPOMOSO series. Live/Studio is also unique since the guitarist is trading licks with the octave mandola of Phil Durrant, who usually plays violin or is involved with software and live electronics.

To be candid, except for the odd foot stomp, rustle and slide plus occasional warbles or mumbles some of which emanate from Kraabel’s throat, Reed’s presence is pretty minimal. However the instrumentalists’ response to his movement can almost be sensed. In tandem, in counteraction or with broken chords, the saxophonist and guitarist pursue a strategy where Kraabel’s reed moans, squeals and bites are usually met by rhythmic strums or percussive string rubs probably intensified in the live performance by the dancer’s sweeping motions.

“Second Dance, still dancing”,  the extended final track, is even more arresting since it balances a linear approach with timbral deviations that don’t detract from the ongoing plan. The absolute conclusion also features about 15 seconds of Reed’s grazing sand dancing, Interspaced with silences, During the performance Kraabel’s vocalized yips, gargles and squeaks are almost as prominent as her warm reed trills or protracted overblowing. In response, Thompson’s string work moves from folksy and almost distracted strums to powerful, resonating chording. String scratches and bowed string textures eventually hook up with tongue slaps to create a place for that completes foot shuffle motion.

Those folksy assumptions sometimes present on the other disc are even more distanced on Live/Studio’s seven tracks even though the instrumentation would suggest a Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt session string band-like meeting.

Starting with the lengthy live track, the duets become more condensed in the studio with no loss of verve or imagination.  “Live – Cafe Oto” sets the pace with the guitarist’s simple chording soon taking on percussive and metallic properties as Durrant’s harsh frails encompass stops and rubs with movement towards the highest pitches near the headstock. With the guitarist maintaining the  horizontal connection, tempos speed up and pitches elevate as both range over the string sets for torqued slaps and pops. The final sequence defines close-knit cooperation, Harmonies remain, with Thompson’s sandpaper-like string rubs creating an ostinato,  over which Durrant’s shakes, plucks and jabs provide decoration.

Variations of this strategy play out on the six studio tracks as well. Nonetheless pivots towards Blues variations, the melodies of  forgotten folk ballads and rapid frails and twangs are offset by unexpected unmetered free music passages where the sophistication of intersecting frails is prominent. Aptly meeting the challenges proffered in each situation, Thompson’s adaptability and ability is demonstrated in both cases.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Still: 1. First Dance 2. Second Dance, still dancing

Personnel: Still: Caroline Kraabel (alto saxophone, voice and surface sounds); Daniel Thompson (acoustic guitar) and Max Reed (dance, voice and surface sounds)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Live – Cafe Oto 2. Studio – One 3. Studio – Two 4. Studio – Three 5. Studio – Four 6. Studio – Five 7. Studio – Six

Personnel: Live: Phil Durrant (octave mandola) and Daniel Thompson (acoustic guitar)