"By the way, if you don't like guitars you won't like this CD!" So says guitarist John Russell, in his sleeve note to Translations, laying out the truth in typically plain, simple terms. Russell is part of the generation of improvisers who came together in London in the '70s and have been mainstays of the capital's improv scene ever since. If that makes it sound parochial, thanks to Russell the reality has been very different. Through his monthly Mopomoso series of live concerts (celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2011) and his annual three-day festival Fete Quaqua, Russell has established links with improvising musicians across many countries and warmly welcomed them to London.
Russell's duo with French guitarist Pascal Marzan dates back to 2004, and typifies the links he has made with other musicians. The recordings here date from February 2007 and March 2010, in both cases recorded at Russell's home of the time, which helps to explain their relaxed, happy-go-lucky atmosphere. In his sleeve notes, Marzan gives a telling insight into the recordings, noting that the only sounds removed were "some unavoidable external noise and the subsequent bursts of laughter and discussion about music." The pair's shared love of the guitar and guitar music pervades the entire album.
On the recordings, Russell's steel-strung plectrum playing is heard on the left channel and Marzan's nylon-strung classical guitar on the right, allowing the different contributions of the two to be heard clearly and easily distinguished. Although the two guitars have very different timbres, they blend well as the complementary parts of a coherent totality. The natural playing styles of Russell and Marzan are very different, yet together they adapt to each other and find a common style that allows each to play fluently and freely. When they are in full flow, the music seems to pour out of them smoothly and effortlessly, making it simultaneously relaxing and exhilarating.
On the album's longest track, the 24-minute epic "Kuulilennuteetunneliluuk" (in keeping with Russell's internationalism, the track titles are taken from tongue twisters in various languages, some being English translations), the pair starts at a brisk pace, spurring each other on and exchanging phrases at speeds that demonstrate their mental and manual sharpness. The piece then settles down to a more sedate tempo, but the technique remains just as impressive. It never sounds as if the two are in competitionno dueling guitars herebut are both totally involved in an enjoyable and engaging game. As Russell says, "I find the duo a continuing delight." Yes, it shows.
By the way, if you do like guitars, Translations makes for compelling listening; if you don't like guitars, it could well change your mind.
Don't tease your cat; Eighty-eight beautiful canals; Nightwork; Kuulilennuteetunneliluuk; In Mr Niwa's garden, two chickens suddenly ate a crocodile.
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