KEITH ROWE & JOHN TILBURY – E.E. Tension And Circumstance


“E.E.” stands for Eileen Elizabeth, the name of Keith Rowe’s mother who passed away in 2009 and is the involuntary origin of this reunion, materially taking place December 17, 2010 at Les Instants Chavirés. The previous work by the duo – 2003’s masterpiece Duos for Doris, on Erstwhile – had been created right after Doris Tilbury’s passing. Basically, this CD is a prolongation of the subtle yet ever-present line that connects Rowe and Tilbury’s advancement in their life at large.

We must immediately mention how stunning the recording quality is. Everything – the smallest gesture, the faintest exhalation – appears so close to the listener’s perception that, more than once, I thought myself as an element of the stage setting. As Rowe picks various objects on the table, you can measure the indecision about manipulating one part or the other of the guitar’s neck and visualize some sort of emotional restraint, imagining slightly wavering hands applying cautious touches with the habitual respect for silence. When Tilbury rubs the piano strings with something, not only you hear the whispered pitch emitted, but also the soft, irregularly rounded noise that accompanies the motion. This sort of vibrant detail constitutes the reason for which listening to a record like this should be approached with the same self-disciplined commitment that needs to be applied to the serious practicing of a martial art.

In terms of individual response, no doubts here. We’re in presence of one of the finest ever records coming from members of the AMM circle, definitely at the altitudes of the aforementioned Duos For Doris. The initial pressure is palpable, similar to the interminable seconds preceding a uneasy yet heartfelt hug between reunited friends. The rupture of the silent spell that had divided the players following Rowe’s departure from the group unfolds gradually but without reservations. There seems to be a will of opening the respective personal diaries for the first time after many years, both men aware that only a person that they know so deeply might be able to understand the scribbling on those pages. During the set, at least three moments exist in which the joint textural escalation generates the kind of awe exclusively transmitted by influential improvisers, which – not by chance – coincide with the use of battery-powered appliances and bows. The conclusion returns to an excruciating stillness, in which we mentally pictured the audience collectively holding their breath. Even the four or five coughs previously captured by the live taping seem to fit the general sense of uncomfortable concentration rather than annoy.

Control of emotions, accurate channeling of a somewhat fluctuating creative inspiration. A precious lesson by two masters.

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