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Fennesz Daniell Buck - Knoxville

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Artist: Fennesz Daniell Buck

Album: Knoxville

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Oct. 22, 2010

Although the era of the supergroup has passed (and we can heave a collective sigh of relief at never having to purchase another over-hyped collaboration simply because its line-up includes someone we liked in another context), the supergroup trap still exists. These days, the word is frequently used in connection with improvised music — often wrongly. For the record, Fennesz/Daniell/Buck should not be labelled with the dreaded s-word.

In February 2009, the Big Ears festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, brought Christian Fennesz, David Daniell and Tony Buck of The Necks together as a trio for the first time. Knoxville is a record of the resulting performance. The album lasts just over 31 minutes and plays continuously, but is indexed as four separate tracks. It holds few surprises for anyone familiar with the individual histories of the three participants. However, beware the supergroup trap! Fans of Endless Summer, San Agustin or The Necks may not find what they seek.

On the positive side, all the trio members are experienced improvisers, well-practiced in the art of listening in the moment and producing just the right response. Able to keep their egos in check, they focus on the collective enterprise over that of any individual. Initially, this leads to tentative exchanges with no-one pushing to the front — a common phenomenon with a new improv grouping. The resulting music is subdued and delicate, providing an easy way into the group sound.

Fennesz and Daniell soon find ways to accommodate their two guitars simultaneously within the trio. Through Fennesz’s trademark use of electronics, his guitar functions as a background wash with Daniell’s more distinctive playing layered on top of it. Buck’s understated use of cymbals as punctuation and coloration reveals his experience in The Necks of finding ways to play alongside two others without taking over.

As their initial inhibitions ease and they warm up, together the three gather momentum and the volume of their playing gradually increases. The two guitars and drums combination might tempt some to think of this as a power trio. But that would be inappropriate, as none of them uses volume for its own sake or to overpower the others. Rather than blasting the listener with power, they create an atmospheric soundscape that is reassuringly restrained with sufficient detail to keep sounding fresh.

The real measure of Knoxville’s success is that it always feels it has ended too soon. If it were a concert, the audience would be on its feet demanding more. With a CD, the only option is to play it again — an acceptable option, as it has the knack of sounding better with every play.

By John Eyles

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