AMN Reviews: Karris Vasseur Duo – A Step in the Dark Stirs the Fire (2021; Bandcamp)

During the pandemic lockdown, noisy Chicago improviser Reid Karris recorded a number of tracks using assorted percussion instruments, such as metal bowls, springboxes, and skatchboxes. He sent these to French guitarist Christian Vasseur, who assembled them into pieces by adding his own mohan veena playing and electronic processing (the mohan veena is something of a cross between a sitar and acoustic guitar). The results are captured on the eleven recordings found on A Step in the Dark Stirs the Fire.

Vasseur’s choice of instrumentation and his deliberate and carefully-paced style stands in contrast to the organized chaos that Karris provides. There is a lilting, folky feel to the album, with Vasseur plucking notes over Karris’s object-based percussion. On the other hand, the two are not opposed to going off on freely-improvised tangents that involve twisted notes, scraping, and psychedelic structures. On at least one track, Vasseur focuses on processing Karris’s contributions into an unusual, but not unpleasant, sound wall. But for the most part, Vasseur represents a semblance of rural normalcy while Karris adds darker and odder textures and sounds in the background.

Karris and Vasseur could be framed as being at different places on multiple axes – country, culture, instrumentation, and style to name a few. A Step in the Dark Stirs the Fire is a hazy, twisted offering that does a remarkable job of narrowing the Euclidian distance between the points representing Karris and Vasseur in this multidimensional space. Strong recommendation.