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Stefan Keune, Old & New…

John Eyles By

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The two releases below both feature renowned German saxophonist Stefan Keune. They were recorded just over a decade apart, in January 2010 and September 2020, with different small groups. Keune plays alto saxophone in the earlier one, tenor saxophone in the later. Such differences mean that the two discs work well together to provide a triangulated view of Keune and his music.

As the 2010 recording features British guitarist John Russell, who died in January 2021 after an extended battle against cancer, its release seems a timely way to mark Russell's passing, particularly given Keune's strong connection to the guitarist.

Russell/Keune/Vanderstraeten
On Sunday
A New World of Jazz
2020

On Sunday finds Keune in a trio with Russell, the two having first recorded as a duo at the tail-end of the 20th century, and the saxophonist frequently playing in London at Russell's monthly improv gathering Mopomoso and his annual three-day festival Fête Quaqua. The trio is completed by drummer-percussionist Kris Vanderstraeten, a renowned stalwart of Belgian free improvisation. The album was recorded at the Bar L'Archiduc in Brussels, where such luminaries as John Butcher, Ivo Perelman and Matthew Shipp have recorded live albums. This trio's two resulting tracks play for seventy minutes altogether.

The interaction between the saxophonist and guitarist makes them instantly recognisable; it is an amalgam of mutual accompaniment with call-and-response, as notes and ideas are batted back and forth between the two. Vanderstraeten does not play all the time, but when he does, he shows that he was an ideal choice to complete the trio; he seamlessly slots into the exchanges without radically altering them, not playing a conventional kit but deploying a varied arsenal of sound-making percussive objects which perfectly complement the guitar and saxophone. The end result is a three-way conversation of equals in which no one player dominates but all are included and clearly heard. And is that not what we should expect of an improvising trio? Yes, of course.

Xpact
Xpact II
FMR Records
2021

The quartet Xpact first came together in 1982 and comprised reeds player Wolfgang Fuchs, guitarist Erhard Hirt, bassist Hans Schneider and drummer Paul Lytton; the group disbanded in 1986, having played together frequently and released one album, Frogman's View (Uhlklang, 1984). As John Corbett proclaims in his sleeve notes, "Xpact was one of the strongest of the second-generation German free music working bands."

Fuchs died of a heart attack in 2016, so when the group reformed in 2020 the surviving members asked Keune to join them, no doubt influenced by the fact that Schneider and Lytton had been members of the Stefan Keune Trio which recorded Loft (Hybrid, 1992). One of the reformed group's first gigs was at King Georg in Cologne in September 2020, the resulting recording being heard on Xpact II. Straight from the start, the quartet members are in touch with one another, with Keune sounding like a long-standing member rather than a new arrival.

Across four tracks, totalling fifty-six minutes, the four improvise freely and deliberately, never rushing things but obviously listening to one another intently; changes of tempo or volume do not come at the behest of a single player but are clearly negotiated between the four and happen organically, sounding natural. A third of a century on from the first Xpact, the above quote from Corbett is as true as ever.

Tracks and Personnel

On Sunday

Tracks: On Sunday1; On Sunday 2.

Personnel: Stefan Keune: alto saxophone; John Russell: acoustic amplified guitar; Kris Vanderstraeten: percussion, drums.

Xpact

Tracks: Restart; Immersion; In Between; After All.

Personnel: Stefan Keune: tenor sax; Erhard Hirt: guitar, electronics; Hans Schneider: double bass; Paul Lytton: Trobriander laptop, miscellaneous table top objects.

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