John Russell

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Birthdays Review

by Fran├žois Couture

Birthdays was recorded in one studio session in February 1997. Guitarist John Russell and percussionist Roger Turner have been playing together, as a duo and within bigger groups, since the mid-'70s. They share a similar approach to free improvisation, favoring restraint over stamina, texture over lyricism. It results in a more abstract, cerebral (some say impenetrable) form of improvisation, directly inherited from John Stevens' influential Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Russell plays a 1930s unamplified acoustic guitar. Turner's kit for this session was made of two floor toms equipped with tuning pedals, a hi-hat, and a few stands on which he continuously swapped various objects. The ten improvisations on Birthdays vary in length and interest. Three are over ten minutes in length; the others run as short as two. With the exception of "Ghosts of a Chance," the shorter settings work better, as ideas don't have time to run out. If Russell and Turner are well-tuned together, they also tend to run in circles. Their focusing on very small sounds leaves little place for excitement except for Turner's occasional outbursts -- but these pale in comparison to his playing on Konk Pack's CD Big Deep (Grob, 1999). Both musicians have better albums out.

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