Guitarist John Russell has always devoted himself to the cause of free improvisation as a vocation and the music he and his cohorts make here is arguably the best-realized example of his art on record to date.
The more time passes the more obvious it becomes that Russell just might be one of the most committed group players working in this relatively rarefied field. This is especially true of "The Bite," played as a duo in the company of tenor saxophonist Garry Todd, whose appearance here amounts to something not unlike the return of the prodigal, given how infrequent his public performances have been over the years. The two men first recorded as a duo back in 1975 and it's clear from their performance, they they've developed a paradoxically tight, yet loose understanding. Their work rewards close listening.
Trumpeter Henry Lowther is another case in point with regards to musicians who are coming back to this strand of the music. It's clear from the off that "Blart," played by a duo of Lowther and Russell, is the work of a pair of musical sensibilities both sensitive and open-minded. Their musicianship is consummate and so far in the moment that there's no chance of them producing the same performance again, which is just as it should be in truly exploratory music. There is furthermore a lyrical strain in their work which is really uncommon, and so pronounced is it that when Lowther switches from muted to open horn the difference in terms of sonic impact is extraordinary.
"Chamarileros" is a duo with soprano saxophonist and percussionist Chefa Alonso, and there are passages where Alonso evokes the spirit of John Stevens in the way she puts out the most negligible filigrees of percussive sound as a means for both complementing and shading Russell's lines. When she switches to soprano sax the effect is transformative, the change having the practical impact of energizing Russell's work. What's equally noteworthy is the fact that as the performance develops; the distinct personalities of the two musicians emerge. The effect is one of the tried and tested being constructively disregarded in face of profoundly in the moment creativity.
An eight-piece group that sounds like anything but plays on "So It Goes and the way they abide by the detail of the music is extraordinary. The sonic results are that they sound like an ensemble half the size. At all times a feeling of clarity pervades the music and the development of the piece is quintessentially marked by the input of individual sensibilities.
When it comes down to it, this is not music likely to win over anyone not already converted to the methodology and results of musicians improvising freely together. On a less mundane level it is however a body of amply rewarding music.
Personnel: John Russell: guitar, with Garry Todd: tenor sax; Henry Lowther: trumpet; Chefa Alonso: soprano sax, percussion; Nicole Legros: voice; Jean-Michel Van Schouwberg: voice; Stefan Keune: alto sax; Phillipp Wachsmann: violin, electronics; Ashley Wales: piano; Ivor Kallin: double bass, preparations; Javier Carmona: percussion; Steve Beresford: electronics, objects.