Versions is the second collaborative LP from this duo and, like its predecessor Sycamore, it consists of material drawn from seven hours of in-studio improvisations. Sycamore was stitched together by the musicians themselves, but for Versions, guitarist David Daniell and multi-instrumentalist Douglas McCombs handed those same seven hours of material over to recording engineer-producer Ken Brown (ex-Tortoise) to sift through. Brown’s selections are more widely dynamic than those on Sycamore, traversing moments of pensive ambience, terse abstraction, and vast stretches of unique, often beautiful sounds. Musically, connections to Tortoise could be drawn (McCombs has been a member of that institution since 1991), but frankly, I find Versions to be a more interesting listen than anything Tortoise has done since the ’90s.
Versions ends with a pair of live recordings, which displays a more natural progression for the duo’s improvisations than the intriguing patchwork before it, although the raw instrumental sounds remain favourably comparable. This kind of spacious, free-flowing music could only come out of improvisation, but moments like the blossoming guitar line on “Ley Lines” could fool anyone into thinking this was composed. Versions is an immensely thoughtful and welcoming listen, so don’t let the “I”-word scare you off.