By Chris Haines
John Russell is an important improviser within the London free improv scene and has been since the 1970’s. As a guitarist who defies a conventional technique it is not surprising that comparisons have been made throughout the years to Derek Bailey, and although there are obvious similarities in style, John’s playing is his own and not wholly within the same vein as Bailey’s. Whilst the percussionist Ståle Liavik Solberg has established himself within Oslo’s thriving improvised music scene and has been gaining positive responses throughout Europe and the USA. The pair have been playing together since 2012, both in duo and larger ensemble formats, and it clearly shows within this recording.
No Step contains 1 piece of freely improvised music, in the style of the European school, coming in at 33 minutes in length. This is a music where sounds take-on different meanings and the creative ebb and flow between the performers is the communicative object for projection. Everything is laid bare and there is nowhere to hide. Bold statements are made, answered, discussed, and at times contemplated. The musicians mirror and match each others playing to combine sounds that create dense and frenetic textures alongside more open sparser passages.
They communicate well through the music and support each others playing as well as challenging each other in a playful sense. The two musical lines are sometimes distinct and separate in their timbral quality whilst other sections merge and blend together so that it is hard to tell who is playing what. The two musicians are clearly well attuned to one another and between them they are quick to react to each other’s ideas, helping one another to support and explore the material in hand.
The surface of the music bubbles with an energy and even within the more still and contemplative sections there is a feeling of tension; anticipating that it won’t be long before the sounds erupt into another vigorous discourse. Sound structures develop and dissolve with ease and there is a real forward motion to the music.
As a piece of free improv this is a welcome addition to the canon of works within this genre and the guitar/percussion format. It might not be long before comparisons are being made with the Bailey/Bennink partnership!