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Friday, September 16, 2016

Lotte Anker/Fred Lonberg-Holm & Dave Jackson/Dirk Serries - Two Duos (Astral Spirits, 2016) ***½

By Lee Rice Epstein

Lotte Anker and Fred Lonberg-Holm, recorded live at the Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery in Chicago, on a split-release with Dave Jackson and Dirk Serries, recorded live at Café Oto in London. It’s almost like free jazz bingo. If you had “Astral Spirits” in the label column, you win! The title Two Duos plays like a droll joke, once you start listening. Both halves contain breadth and depth well beyond the simplicity of a duo.

Anker and Lonberg-Holm’s duet plays on all their strengths. Their extended improvisation takes a kind of narrative approach with the titling, “Ice King” / “Melt” / “The Frigid Air” / “Cold Only Hurts Those Who Feel,” and the playing is thrillingly free. Anker and Lonberg-Holm both have a way of taking tuneful lines to their scorched edges, successfully mixing atonal leaps with extended techniques.

On their live improvisation, recorded at Cafe Oto, Dave Jackson and Dirk Serries come screaming, but right around the middle of their duet, Serries swerves lightly into a solo stretch, toying with the volume knob to give his chords that echoey coming-going effect. Jackson intersects with some shockingly high-register, staccato playing that reminded me of some earlier Roscoe Mitchell solos. The whole second half, they stay in this bright and open, atonal space, creating a playful banter.

To be honest, this doesn’t have the feel of a must-have entry in all these musicians’ catalogs. Both are certainly enjoyable improvisation sessions, but I don’t feel like I can give an unequivocal buy-this-now recommendation, which frankly feels a bit odd, considering how much I enjoyed the album. I have a thing about not messing with a label’s canonical release, but you could take the digital versions and split it into two shorter, EPs, rather than leaving it as a single split. You might find yourself dipping into both more often.