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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Stefan Keune, Dominic Lash, Steve Noble – Fractions (NoBusiness, 2015) ****

By Martin Schray

Undeservedly, Stefan Keune is one of the most underrepresented musicians in the free music world. This surely has to do with his slender body of work (he was born in 1965 and has released only eight albums as a member of smaller ensembles), but then again he has recorded for FMP (one of the labels last recordings, No Comment) and he has worked with outstanding colleagues like John Russell (in an excellent duo), Mats Gustafsson, Paul Lytton as well as Peter Kowald. However, as a stylist he is simply great. His choice of the sopranino saxophone as main instrument gives him an uncommon sound, which he pairs with a textural approach which is why critics often compare him with Evan Parker and John Butcher, yet his squeezed sound is really distinctive. Even when he plays the baritone sax he makes it sound like an alto.

On Fractions, his new album with British improvisers Dominic Lash (b) and Steve Noble (dr), this high-pitched, squeaking sound collides with Lash’s and Noble’s dark and menacing structures which remind of an approaching thunderstorm (“Two Far“). The music is raw, direct, unvarnished and reduced to what is absolutely necessary. Lash and Noble are not there to push the saxophon to the front or to support it so that it can soar, that’s not the way this trio works. It’s more like the shuffle offense in basketball, an offensive strategy which has all the players rotate in each of the positions. Compared to the trio formation here it is a constellation which offers a maximum of possibilties to interact and where nobody can hide behind the other.

On the one hand Keune, Lash and Noble systematically comb through microcosms of sound fields but on the other hand they are also ready to explode (“A Find“) which prevents the music from dragging on – rhythmic energy and the exploration of carefully defined soundscapes co-exist fruitfully. This is a strict procedure which allows dynamic freedom and therefore almost classic free jazz moments – something like that can only be achieved if the musicians trust each other completely, if they know each other well. “Let’s Not“, the 13-minute central piece of the album, might be the best example for this: starting off with reluctant single notes thrown in, it soon develops to controlled mayhem based on very tight interplay, which is constantly fueled and powered by Noble’s extended materials, Lash’s deep mumbling notes and Keune's hysterical, driving alto.

In his liner notes to No Comment the German critic Felix Klopotek claimed that the trio might be the formation in free music in which you can realize an egalitarian idea best, since it was very open and transparent. You can say this about Fractions as well. In spite of its discipline and strength the music is free of conventions, that’s what makes it so extraordinary.

Fractions is another example that NoBusiness has become a seal of quality for saxophone trios.

Really recommended!

Fractions is available on vinyl in an edition of 300 and you can buy it from Instantjazz.

You can watch a complete set of the trio at the Vortex from the same year the recording was made