Seven hours. Versions, the new recording from David Daniell and Douglas McCombs, is all about seven hours. The pair’s previous release, Sycamore, sprang out of seven hours of improvisation, looping and fiddling. Versions is culled from the same seven hours, but this time the selecting comes from former Tortoise member Ken Brown.
Sycamore was a 2009 release from the two guitarists and it featured their vision of the session. This record is an opportunity to take another look and to gather material from another angle. The music isn’t a retread of Sycamore and this is no remix album; this is “new” work in the sense that it was pieced together by “new” eyes and ears.
Most will know McCombs from his work as a bassist with the likes of Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day (or maybe Pullman), while Daniell’s chops come out of collaborations with Thurston Moore, Greg Davis, Loren Connors, Tim Barnes, and others. Both play guitar here and both play brilliantly.
Along with four spacious, stimulating pieces, Versions includes an LP comprised of two live performances. These offer insight into how Daniell and McCombs transport their trunk of studio magic to a live setting.
“Burn After Reading” is the first piece presented on Versions. Spanning almost 13 minutes, it is comprised of waves of sound and percussion. Brown’s construction of the song is astounding, sprinkled with charming splashes of ambient noise and delivering a palliative sensation that is exceptional in scope and effect.
At the other end of the continuum is “Ley Lines,” a loop-heavy track that cuts a satisfying groove supplied by Tortoise drummer John Herndon. It may be hard to spot the guitars in the mix, at least at first, but Daniell and McCombs create another trancelike universe with a hedge of sound that is, almost ironically, comprised of sharp, small notes.
The two live tracks, one from Montreal and one from Knoxville, supply a different sort of vitality to Brown’s edits and ideas. Knoxville has a real small room feel, complete with background footsteps supplied by people crossing the venue. This supplies a rather interesting underpinning, accidentally on purpose, for the improvisation that follows.
Versions is a compelling record. It takes some forbearance and attention, but it also yields major sonic rewards. Brown’s renovation of these improvisations is enthralling. It could be argued that this is his record, but Daniell and McCombs certainly fund the essence with their elusive but impactful playing.
Article originally published as David Daniell and Douglas McCombs – Versions (2012) at Something Else Reviews.