|It's hard to believe that just a few years back, Keith Rowe had only a small handful of releases available outside of his output with AMM. The last few years has seen a virtual explosion of activity, from solos to the sprawling collective explorations of MIMEO. He has, rightfully, taken on a role as a prime instigator and seminal voice in an approach to collective improvisation that eschews linear interaction or the muscular bravado of free jazz for a more rarefied aesthetic of sonic exploration.
The Difference Between a Fish captures Rowe in an unusual setting; mixing it up with two reed players. Of course, as with any endeavor like this, it all comes down to the choice in partners. Doneda seems a logical choice, having spent the last two decades charting out an approach to the soprano sax that melds the elemental components of breath, microtonality, and extended techniques, with an acute attention to the interaction of sound, silence, and performance space. Leimgruber is an odder choice, coming as he does from more of a free jazz foundation. (Though his intensely intimate duets with percussionist Fritz Hauser certainly reveal a penchant for this type of setting.)
From the initial fluttering reed pops over Rowe's low hums and hanging harmonics, this meeting is a study in uneasy balance. The trick here is to avoid a delineation into foreground (reed activity) and background (Rowe's buzzes and rumbles) and for much of the time over the course of the two long improvisations, they manage to pull it off.
The disc opens with The First Part as Doneda's burred, breathy rasps spill in wispy whorls over Rowe's shifting ground. Leimgruber shifts back and forth from pinched overtones to stuttering trills and scribbles, pulling Doneda into more active textures and gestural interactions. On the earlier of the two pieces (the oddly titled The Third Part which comes second on the disc) agitated activity of the two reeds hovers over Rowe's dark, scraped reverberations. Midway through, Doneda and Leimgruber synch into quiet, whistling overtones that quaver like feedback over the almost transparent recesses Rowe creates, generating a breathless tension. Rowe draws this out with a masterful sense of atmospheric arc to a haunting conclusion. Not all of this works as seamlessly as it could, but it is an exploration well worth checking out.