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Doneda / Leimgruber / Rowe - The Difference Between A Fish

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Artist: Doneda / Leimgruber / Rowe

Album: The Difference Between A Fish

Label: Potlatch

Review date: Nov. 6, 2003

The most obvious way Keith Rowe’s legendary group AMM has affected the post-millenium improv world is that partly because of AMM’s influence, many improvisers now focus on texture rather than melody. But more subtly, AMM has helped cause a shift in improv values, at least in some quarters – free jazz is a battle among individual personalities, whereas post-AMMprov sounds less ego-driven.

Many recent improv albums in general, and most recent Rowe albums in particular, therefore are essentially a sound, a long collective exploration of a single texture. If there are major changes within Rowe’s recent improvisations, they usually develop slowly and tentatively, so they usually sound more like the exploratory drones of La Monte Young or Phill Niblock (albeit without the microtonal focus of the former or the maximal textures of the latter) than anything suggested by the word “improv.”

The Difference Between A Fish is less static than most of Rowe’s recent releases, which isn’t saying much in itself, but its volume shifts may surprise you if you’re not paying attention too closely as you listen. Rowe is joined here by saxophonists Michel Doneda and Urs Leimgruber (from France and Switzerland, respectively), who both use a vocabulary of hissing, fluttering extended techniques that is becoming increasingly common in texture-based improv. Unlike many who utilize these techniques, however, Doneda and Leimgruber often play in an openly expressive manner rather than emphasizing any similarity their scrapes and squeals might have to electronic or environmental sounds. Rowe’s playing on guitar (used in a tabletop setup that never particularly sounds like a guitar) and electronics keep Doneda and Leimgruber from taking flight, giving them a reference point that limits their choices with regard to pitch, timbre and balance. Even “The Third Part”, in which Rowe’s playing is punctuated by silences, creates the sense that Rowe’s presence keeps the other musicians from playing too expressively or otherwise drawing too much attention to themselves.

For this reason, The Difference Between A Fish isn’t as well suited to passive listening as some of Rowe’s recent projects (which isn’t to say, by the way, that any of them are meant to be listened to passively). There’s an enormous amount of tension here, with Rowe lingering on the periphery while Doneda and Leimgruber struggle to hold themselves back.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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