No Step (Hispid) was recorded in Oslo in May 2013, during the Blow Out! concert series which Ståle Liavik Solberg curates in tandem with fellow percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love. The album presents a single piece, “No Step”, which runs to just over half an hour, on which Solberg is heard in duet with his mature counterpart from London, guitarist John Russell. Russell is the prime mover behind regular improv concerts under the Mopomoso banner and the annual summit Fete Quaqua.
In other contexts, Solberg plays in a trio with pianist Steve Beresford and saxophonist Martin Küchen, and in the quartet VCDC (voice, cello, drums, clarinet) alongside cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, with whom he also has a duo, Party Knüllers, recently recorded as Party Knüllers meets Jim Baker on the charmingly titled Four Images of Wank (Hispid).
John Russell has played in innumerable contexts, extensively documented since the early 70s. His trio of the late 80s with saxophonist John Butcher and violinist Phil Durant, and the expansion of that unit into the electro-acoustic News from the Shed ensemble was particularly notable, as is a more recent trio with Mats Gustafsson and Raymond Strid, as documented on Birds (dEN, rec. 2011).
Solberg and Russell first appeared together in London in June 2012, and subsequently toured Scandinavia, so “No Step” documents a fresh but road-tested alliance, and that tells in their mutually vivid responsiveness.
At times Solberg is as active on his kit as Paal Nilssen-Love typically is, but there’s nothing here even approaching the force of a backbeat. Solberg’s drum sound remains non-reverberant, always perfectly in sympathy with Russell’s characteristically desiccated sound.
At times Solberg’s textural scrabbling around his kit draws Russell’s anyways tight clustering of tautly sprung single notes into particularly knotty configurations, but, conversely, there are also long stretches where the silences endemic to the drummer’s predominantly anti-rhythmic approach allow Russell to relax and strum lightly resonant chords that have the luxury of non-sound into which to decay.
Among many felicitous details on this absorbing set, check Solberg’s imitation of an particularly rickety typewriter early on; or, at around 8:30, Russell’s uncharacteristic essay of a melodic fragment, which I’m sure is from a standard but can’t place; and there are other occasions besides where Russell, usually staunchly non-idiomatic, seems to toy with allusion to other musics, most specifically, at around 20:35, to the delta blues.
“No Step” is an absorbing and invigorating listen; firmly rooted in acoustic free-improv but, in Russell’s playing in particular, also inherently melodic and therefore, perhaps surprisingly, as pleasing as it is invigorating.
The listener’s ears always pricked to the grain of the protagonists’ sound. The performance ends with both in percussive mode, scraping sound from skin and steel into barbed motes and them whipping them up into a localised simoom of sound.
John Russell guitar; Ståle Liavik Solberg drums & percussion.