Stefan Keune

Excerpts & Offerings

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If there ever were possible comparisons between John Russell and his fellow Englishman guitarist Roger Smith, they are found on Excerpts & Offerings. His restrained, embroidered acoustic guitar work recalls Smith's Extended Plays or his work with Three Pullovers. But Russell is his own man and a fearsome improviser. The understated style of saxophonist Stefan Keune inspired him to tone down. The resulting seven pieces shimmer with fragility and the tension of immediacy one found in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble's best moments. Keune alternates between sopranino and alto saxophones, uttering short phrases of half-born sounds, neither fleshy notes nor breathing noises but somewhere in between -- Evan Parker if he sounded tentative. Yet there is nothing uncertain in his playing. He has complete control over the instrument, and his fragility is stylistic, not technical. The opening 14-minute improv, "Big George," comes from a concert in Liverpool in November 2000. It explores the widest range of expression and recalls at times the duets of John Butcher and Derek Bailey (Vortices and Angels, on Emanem). The next six tracks are shorter (maximum nine minutes), and were recorded four days later in a London studio. This time the musicians detail some of their previous ideas, dragging a magnifying glass over them. "Late Arrivals" disintegrates before the disc ends properly, leaving listeners wanting more. Recommended for fans of the most abstract acoustic improv.

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