Recorded live at the Big Ears Festival in Tennessee in 2009, “Knoxville” documents the first collaboration between three of the leading lights in experimental music. Christian Fennesz is practically a household name at this stage of the game, with likely no need for an introduction, but David Daniell (San Agustin) and Tony Buck (The Necks) have also released their fair share of equally engaging material both in their main groups and in various collaborative settings over the years. What this trio created in “Knoxville” is simply stunning to say the least, especially considering that they reportedly had only a brief soundcheck under their belts prior to performing this set.
What makes “Knoxville” such a captivating listen is just how “locked in” these three are with one another, how each of their distinctive styles are heard throughout. It’s tempting when listening to collaborations like these to want to try to ascribe one of the individual’s musical fingerprints to every damn moment of the album (this section has a decidedly Fenneszian feel to it) and, believe me, I have spent several hours trying to do just that with “Knoxville.” But it’s a rather futile endeavor with a trio like this—these guys are far too talented and seasoned as improvisers to play backing band for one another.
What the four tracks that comprise “Knoxville” really sound like is the perfect amalgamation of some of their key works: the gradual rural guitar drones spread across San Agustin’s “The Expanding Sea” meets the dramatic wanderings of The Necks “The Boys” meets Fennesz’s singular electro-acoustic solo efforts. Buck provides skittering drum fills, ominous cymbal scrapes, and jubilant cymbal washes that mirror the ebb-and-flow of droning textures that Fennesz and Daniell unleash, never settling into anything overly rhythmic, but providing some sort of forward momentum for each of the tracks. And this certainly isn’t one of those chin-stroking drone records—there are moments here, particularly on “Unuberwindbare Wande” and “Diamond Mind,” where this trio lets loose a torrent of uplifting racket that’ll send the goosebumps in motions.
There are rumored to be further collaborations from this trio in the near future. Based on the utterly entrancing sounds heard on “Knoxville,” one can only hope. 9/10 -- David Perron (25 August, 2010)