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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The flexible sounds of David Stackenas

Posted By on 11.14.07 at 02:45 PM

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Chicagoans have had numerous chances to hear Swedish guitarist David Stackenäs over the last decade or so. He was part of the important Pipeline Project that truly opened up the creative exchange between Chicago and Stockholm, and he’s performed here as a member of Tri-Dim (with Håkon Kornstad and Ingar Zach), Ken Vandermark’s Territory Band, and on his own. Tonight he plays solo and in a trio with Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) and Michael Colligan (dry ice) at the Hideout.

Stackenäs has consistently impressed me with both his range and inventiveness, adapting his skills and sound to each given context while retaining a signature sound—an approach that emphasizes color and texture, limning the work of others with ear-opening harmonies and noisy shadows. On Agape (Creative Sources), his duet album with saxophonist Martin Küchen (a member of the energetic free jazz quartet Exploding Customer), he demonstrates his expertise with gestural, abstract tendencies. While his partner concentrates on unpitched breathing sounds, Stackenäs masterfully alternates carefully selected bits of high frequency feedback and string scraping, striking his axe with various unnamed devices (I’m not sure, but on some passages he appears to be using handheld electronic devices that nick the strings in rapid succession). The pair engages in a lovely, richly nuanced dialogue.

His contributions are more maximal on the excellent debut album by the quartet Boots Brown—reedist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling, and trumpeter Magnus Broo—released on the recently formed Slottet Records. The music starts out as if it were an off-kilter homage to west-coast verities, with Broo (of Atomic fame) and Gustafsson dancing around one another like Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan and Stackenäs laying down Jim Hall-worthy chords. But things change quickly. The combo covers a lot of ground, and though a mixture of unusual restraint and chilled sonorities is at work throughout, this is ultimately free improvisation of the highest caliber. Although Boots Brown don’t hesitate to draw upon idiomatic antecedents like that west coast chamber sound, the real focus is on spontaneous give-and-take. Stackenäs finds an easy reconciliation of Hall, Derek Bailey, and Keith Rowe, and sounds exactly like himself all the while.

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