English guitarist John Russell, a leading exponent of the London improv circle, died on January 18, 2021 after a long battle with cancer. Russell’s attitude remained pragmatically constructive until the very end, so I thought I’d commemorate him by writing about this release, dating from almost a year ago but certainly still relevant. On it, Russell meets for the first time with his namesake Ray Russell, and the third guitar is that of Henry Kaiser, who arranged the session. Completing the quartet is Olie Brice, the brilliant double bassist. Here are the reasons for the album’s title(s).
The set is presented to us as it was recorded, a stream in eight parts rich in essential details enhanced by absolute naturalness. No fear of filling spaces, a state of authentic silence never reached in spite of moments of contemplative calm to be savored time and again. The guitar’s acoustic/electric bipolarity is exploited without regulatory restrictions. Most of the action takes place inside engrossing combinations of picking, pecking and strumming, in turn producing equally attractive rhythmic and timbral superimpositions. Shiny upper partials and weird signals appear in many places, courtesy of the extractive ability of the participants’ fingers, picks and bow. Brice’s preparedness to crawl and suddenly rise within the evolutions of three recognized axe-meisters is an indication of reactivity-cum-propensity to impromptu composition. Wherever Kaiser’s “extreme processing” alter ego decides to employ his armoury of effects, we find ourselves catapulted into short-lived universes of dilations, repetitions, distortions and twisted figurations. Lucidity and clarity of design are maintained throughout, however, including the slightly more chaotic segments. There’s always a way to realize where we are standing at any given moment.
This music challenges the receptive apparata, minus chip-on-the-shoulder aggressiveness. Chock-full of events, informed by the strength of knowledge yet at once malleable and spacious enough for the mind to easily adapt. It made us want to go back and revisit these gentlemen’s older records. They are a heap, of course, and time is a tyrant. But if you leave the stage knowing that you helped someone feel good thanks to your ideas, even the conclusion of one’s earthly cycle can be met with a smile. Goodbye, John.