Stefan Keune

Frequency of Use

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Recorded two years after Excerpts & Offerings, this duo's debut album, Frequency of Use follows the same path. The working relationship between the German saxophonist Stefan Keune and the British guitarist John Russell has grown a bit deeper, but their approaches remain the same. They even chose a similar blend of studio and live improvisations (recorded over two days by Emanem label owner Martin Davidson). That doesn't mean this album is superfluous; Keune's discography runs too short for that. But if you have heard their first CD (for John Butcher's Acta label), this one feels like meeting a good friend. Keune and Russell sound closer together, as if they are playing face to face, mimicking each other's actions. Speed, stamina, and movements between noise-based and note-based sounds are all closely matched. If the guitarist starts by softly scratching his strings, the sax player immediately uses soft breathing effects and muffled squeaks on his sopranino (bringing Butcher to mind). If he moves to more vehement staccato or twirling circular playing, Russell follows by hammering chords or pinching fast-paced runs. The two improvisers may be a bit too committed to this cat-and-mouse chase: At the end of "How Much" Keune stops abruptly, forcing Russell to stutter and grind to a halt -- one can picture him with fingers hanging in mid-air. Instead of this awkward finale, he could have continued for a few seconds and provide closure. Then again, one listens to free improvisation to be surprised, right? "Who" and the short "Why" provide magical moments of telepathy that replace the studied fragility of the material on the first album with assurance.