This album presents the Chris Burn Ensemble in its smallest incarnation yet, as a sextet and a quintet. This is the group's follow-up to 1997's Navigations. The first half of the CD presents a 32-minute set recorded live at the Red Rose on January 21, 2001. John Butcher (saxes), Mark Wastell (cello), Rhodri Davies (harp), John Russell (guitar), and Matt Hutchinson (synthesizer and electronics) surround pianist Chris Burn. Davies missed the group's appearance at the Freedom of the City festival later that year, which makes up the second half of the disc. Both sets are comprised of free improvisations instead of the more structured pieces that are featured on the Ensemble's three previous albums. Some may say that the group has grown old enough to face improvisation without a safety net, but that would be unfair as compositional canvasses usually don't make things easier. Yet, the Chris Burn Ensemble have rarely sounded this focused and vital, and the music this appealingly strange. In the intervening years, all the musicians have thrived to push their playing away from the sounds usually associated with their instruments. This is particularly true of Butcher (who breathes, gurgles, and burps, but rarely emits a "note"), Wastell (king of microscopic bow scratching), and Burn, whose inside-piano playing has grown very remote from what can be heard on his 1997 solo CD Music for Three Rivers. The 22-minute "Horizontals White," and the closing "Still Life on May Day,"provide spine-tingling moments, but there is not a dull minute on this hour-long disc. Recommended.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture