Wednesday, January 04, 2012
Keith Rowe/John Tilbury - E.E.Tension and Circumstance (Potlatch)
I'm not sure if all readers are aware of the circumstances surrounding the pair's first recording, "Duos for Doris" (Erstwhile, 2003). The session, set up by Jon Abbey to occur in Nancy and involving no small amount of logistical and personal difficulty was suddenly in danger of not happening at all due to the serious illness of Tilbury's mother. An uncertain day was spent at Rowe's home in Vallet, after which Tilbury called from England to relate that his mother had indeed passed away but that he'd still meet up in Paris and travel to Nancy, a day later than scheduled. The result was a recording that remains right at the very pinnacle of music for this listener.
Not long after came the dissolution of AMM, a bitter affair. It seemed utterly unlikely that Rowe would ever again play with either of his former companions. In 2008, Rowe's own mother, Eileen Elizabeth Charters-Rowe, died. Tilbury, upon learning of the event, re-established contact and eventually suggested that, just as their first duo ended up centering around the passing of his mother, so they perhaps could get together in honor of Rowe's. Happily, that event took place in December, 2010 at Instants Chavirés in Paris.
When I first heard recordings of the concert, I thought of the almost hour-long set as one of searching and finding, the latter taking up most of the second half. I don't think this is really the case though and, on reflection, it's perhaps silly to think that a mere 6-7 year absence would in any way negate the empathy and sensitivity that had been established since the mid-60s and, especially since 1980. I now here it more as a gradual coalescing of elements, something like a pond in which randomly floating elements, via surface tension and other affinities, slowly accrete, soon forming a wonderfully complex and beautiful entity which lingers for a while, before gently dissipating.
The sheer sounds and, especially, their congruence, are amazing. There are several occasions throughout where the mix is simply unique, like nothing you hear anywhere else; such ears these fellows have. Since 2003, Rowe has gone through a couple of fairly substantial changes in his overall approach, from the maximalism one heard in, say, his 2004 dates with Fennesz to the Twombly-esque scratchy sparseness of his recording with Sachiko M to the hyper-dense obscurantism of some sole projects like The Room. In a sense, he seems to jettison much of that, though by no means all, for a more purely organic interaction, not fundamentally different from what was heard on the Doris sessions. I hear this set as very much an extension of that one, almost as though it could have been recorded the next day, like a conversation picked up after an unfortunately long interlude, returning to the thread but with implicit knowledge of what's intervened. Tilbury is as solid and extraordinary as ever--arguably more so later in the set; he play figures both recognizable and knew and I admit to no small amount of joy when hearing some of the more familiar emanations, like that four-note climbing arpeggio that appears at about the half-hour mark, like an old friend rounding the corner.
We're very fortunate to have this music.
available in the US from Erstdist