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Fennesz Daniell Buck: Knoxville

img  Tobias Fischer

Questions of improvisation are seemingly never simple. On stage and in the moment, performers often behave like free radicals, just as easily affronted as attracted by each other's actions. The notion of sound as a universal language is effectively challenged as even tiny differences in accent and dialect are capable of causing controversy and miscommunication. So, in effect, an album like „Knoxville“, which, at face value, assembles a veritable supergroup  of stars from the experimental scene, is anything but a safe bet, but quite a daring proposition with all the potential of turning into a fiasco: On the occasion of the Big Ears Festival in 2009, the organisers proposed a meeting between Christian Fennesz, Tony Buck and David Daniell. For want of time, however, their first musical encounter was merely preceded by a short soundcheck. Once the curtain lifted, the trio were on their own - without safety net nor conceptual backing.

What follows is a half-hour long collision of tender spaces and fulminant distortion, a confluence of sensitive melodies and powerful blasts of raw Guitar-energy. The performance turns into a chain of carefully sculpted climaxes and decompositions, of minutely prepared detonations. Each of the four tracks contained on „Knoxville“ essentially follows the same scheme, a repeated cycle of no more than three or four chords constituting the basis for a gradual aggregation of textures as well as a slow but inescapable convergence of thematic materials.

Fennesz's electronics, which include anything from delicate films of hiss to foghorn-like harmonic wails, delineate a timeline along which the action unfolds. As Buck's percussion layers shift from the timbral to the tribal, from tenderly placed cymbal strokes and metallic resonance to ferocious pounding and the concerted use of the entire drum set, the Guitarists engage in a continuous exchange of ideas: Crunching powerchords are complemented by sensual motives, broken-down echoes coalesce into focused drone-beams. Already opener „Unüberwindbare Wände“ („Insurmountable Walls“) runs the full gamut from consoling organ points to complex outbursts, with follow-up „Heat from Light“ picking up, discretely reworking and minutely concentrating its themes into a second acme. A piece like „Antonia“, on the other hand, condenses a single feeling and mood, resting on romantic harmonies and an ambiance of forbidden desires and dreamy sensuality.

Possibly due to the minimal preparation time, the individual character traits of the performers have been perfectly preserved. You can literally hear the directness and determination in Daniell's tone, the search for beauty in what some may regard as mere noise. You can sense the strife for balance in the Fennesz-parts, his unique ability of creating bipolar expressions of deep desire and grim determination. And then there are Buck's percussive fields, never cliched,  rarely purely propulsive, frequently quasi-thematic, always in close touch with the harmonic and melodic contributions of his partners. Merging the ambitions of Post Rock and Jazz, uniting the colours of Sound Art and Electronica and fusing the sensibilities of Pop and Ambient, their energies resonate not just sympathetically, but complementary, extending rather than merely embracing the different stylistic spaces of their respective vocabularies.

Former German soccer coach Udo Latteck had a clear perspective on the question of „improvisation“: As long as you've got experienced and talented players in your team, Latteck maintained, there's no need to worry about whether or not they've had the time to attune – things would sort themselves out on the field. „Knoxville“ seems to support this theory and as such, it is not so much a complete surprise but a fulfilled promise. Just like you can never fully rule out a fiasco in sports, it remains a potential danger in music as well. But at least as long as performers like Fennesz, Daniell and Buck are involved, questions of improvisation can seem extremely simple.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Christian Fennesz
Homepage: David Daniell
Homepage: Tony Buck
Homepage: Thrill Jockey Records

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