Russell / Altena / Day
The Fairly Young Bean
Emanem / 4036
John Russell / guitar, Maarten Altena / cello, bass, Terry Day / percussion, voice
Russell’s is probably the only name which rings a bell in this trio from way back in 1981, a session which has taken nearly two decades to emerge blinking into the arena of publicly available recordings. The other two were long-serving improvisers even back then, but their names are in danger of vanishing into the crevices of history, and so it’s nice to have this CD if only to preserve them.
What’s really very nice about this session is that the trio played 26 separate pieces, almost all of them very short, which were intended to be cherry-picked from in order to make up a vinyl album. Now, in the age of the CD, Emanem have been able to issue the whole document intact, complete with what one might very tentatively call “alternate takes”.
It’s pretty hard to tell which tracks are alternate takes of which others; the titles seem to offer clues but, on listening, they also appear to offer false trails disguised in the kinds of dreadful puns and in-jokes which are just another reason why this kind of music isn’t considered cool. Well, it hardly matters; the music is cool as can be, and wonderfully envigorating with it.
The shortest tracks are often the best; a few are under a minute, and many more are less then two. The trio crackles, rattles and scrapes as you’d expect, but the concentration which these brief outbursts contain make for much more satisfying listening than a great sprawling jam, with all its inevitable longeurs, could possibly achieve.
Actually, the trio doesn’t quite do the kind of so-called “insect music” one might expect. Altena does regularly attack his instrument — especially his cello — arco to create the kinds of high-piched squeaks and rumbling harmonics which are now very familiar, but he also walks his bass as if taking steps on the moon. He has a big, metallic and almost strident pizzicato which is fantastic fun.
Terry Day does some cracking ensemble work, although he’s not really a drummer so much as a texturalist and it’s hard to judge his playing on any technical level. Certainly it’s effective in terms of densities and very occasional rhythmic gestures, but his role here feels rather supportive and it wouldn’t be fair to judge him on it (save that for the Amazing Band records).
I suppose it’s fair to say that this is a record which won’t change your life, but the unusual focus on brevity mustn’t be underestimated. These are performances which really milk every second of the music, and there are precious few hour-and-a-quarter CDs of improvised music which manage to achieve that. That’s not to say that the longer tracks don’t work — “Emphasis” is nine minutes of full-throttle skittering about which, somehow, never gets dull — but as a collection of little gems, this is something of a treasure chest. Richard Cochrane