If the experimental nexus is capable of producing its own superstar power trio, than this is surely it. Between them Christian Fennesz, David Daniell (San Agustin) and Tony Buck (The Necks) - bolstered by a procession of fine releases and endless collaborative forays - have a significant swathe of the avant underground all sewn up. So maybe it shouldn't be altogether surprising that Knoxville is brimming over with bravura displays of improvisational nous. Similarly, it would be hard to find a finer study of the suppression of the ego; each musician's signature sound serving to continually complement, but never saturate, the artistry of the others.
Recorded in February 2009, at the annual Big Ears Festival at the titular American locale, this set documents the first meeting of this triumvirate, whose only prior experience of playing together was during a brief soundcheck moments before. That could explain the slightly tentative opening, as each player searches for an initial foothold. But the timid metallic scrapes and whines quickly fall away to reveal a common language, as Daniell locates a plateau of stability from which to launch a series of arcing salvos (think Loren Connors at his most tempestuous) into the atomised maelstrom generated by Fennesz's vaporous electronics, while Buck rides heavy on the cymbal chatter.
As they ratchet up the energy quotient the trio generates a whirring post-jazz synthesis not dissimilar to that of Norway's Supersilent - another unit whose output is founded upon the bedrock of improvisation. Or maybe even a less primal take on Rangda's uncompromising False Flag LP, but one tailored for the ECM set. Yet, for all that hullabaloo, there are moments during Knoxville where the plaintive subtlety and nuanced phrasing blossoms into unbridled states of bliss, as on the barely-there Antonia, an amorphous near-ambient eulogy channelling convoys of steam through a cavernous subterranean aqueduct.
Feverish whispers suggest these three will joust again. Let us hope that's more than mere talk.
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