From the same batch of vinyl- and digital-only releases as The Convergence Quartet’s Owl Jacket, Fractions (NoBusiness) features Convergence bassist Dominic Lash alongside drummer Steve Noble and saxophonist Stefan Keune.
Fractions is a superbly nuanced set of improvisations. Although there’s not much room here for Lash’s interest in Wandelweiser-style ‘silent music’, as free music sessions go it’s more intricately interknit than most, and the bassist is well-cast in the role of formidable and astute improvisor alongside the precision hyperkinesis of drummer Steve Noble. These two don’t come together very often, but any grouping that brings them together is an intriguing proposition.
Completing the trio, saxophonist Stefan Keune plays mostly sopranino, but also tenor sax. Since it has a higher range than the alto, the sopranino is usually considered a sweet- and tender-sounding instrument, but Keune typically pushes into the higher registers of the instrument’s expressive range.
He’s a striking saxophonist, but I don’t hear much about him. Loft, an album recorded in 1992 by the Stefan Keune Trio with bassist Hans Schneider and drummer Paul Lytton, is well regarded, and the trio had a second lease of life circa 2007-2009 with Achim Krämer replacing Lytton. Meanwhile Keune collaborated widely within the European improv scene, and he has a longstanding and productive association with guitarist John Russell.
Fractions was recorded live at the Vortex Jazz Club, London, in November 2013, then mixed and mastered by recordist Alex Ward, who has done an excellent job with the sound.
“Two Far” begins quietly enough but soon gets more demanding, alternating between moments of spaciousness and reflection, and more extended, pressurised sections in which Keune worries away at his reed, yawping into the rhythmic turbulence.
“Cuts” is more open, with all three players probing for effect. After a brief flurry of agitation the pressure ebbs, and Lash and Noble play a nuanced passage of bowed bass and cymbal surges, which then gets worked up as a series of rhythmic flurries and chewy saxophonics. As the performance evolves it gets ever more texturally interesting and subtly vigorous, and it peaks in intensity with no undue force applied.
Lash begins “A Find” with textural creaks and taut string soundings, to which Keune adds twists of birdsong phonics while Noble brushes wire on skins. A brief sputter of potency, and it’s all over within five minutes.
Side two of the vinyl edition begins with “Let’s Not”, with Noble again playing with wire brushes, tappeting brittly over skins, and Keune sounding short chewy phrases. While Noble switches up, deploying kit peripherals for abstract percussion sounds, Lash keeps things open for a long stretch of textural exploration, only briefly locking into a fast-pulsing plucked rhythm after seven intriguing minutes. Then there’s another moment of cloudburst dynamics before an adroit short-order disassembly.
“Mélange”, at 12:50, is the album’s longest piece, a thicket of convulsive agitation comprised of small sounds compactly aggregated. Keune’s on tenor for a brassier edge, and it’s the album’s strongest cut for sustained intensity.
Stefan Keune sopranino and tenor saxophones; Dominic Lash double bass; Steve Noble drums, cymbals and percussion.
The Convergence Quartet – Owl Jacket.
Ikue Mori and Steve Noble – Prediction and Warning.
Stephen O’Malley and Steve Noble – St Francis Duo.
Brötzmann, Adasiewicz, Edwards, Noble – Mental Shake + Brötzmann, Noble – I Am Here Where Are You.
Buy Fractions direct from NoBusiness.