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Published: 2004/07/29
by Glenn Alexander

Stage – Keller Williams

With Keller Williams, there's one music, one muse, and one man. Live, he supplies something no one else can produce and hits you with the full bag of tricks, whether with the outcome is fully realized or not. This current offering of the Freek finds this one-man jamband at his most exposed, and is perhaps, the most fully-realized attempt at capturing the artist in motion.

Unlike Loop, which was a more focused, streamlined version of his live act, Stage offers Keller in all his abundant glory. The vast majority of the songs on Stage stand unreleased until now, yet they illustrate virtually all the sides of Keller’s music, out in the open and unpolished. Like his performances, there’s the multitude of styles and moods you would come to expect, each one floating out from the stage as if coming from a cloned army of possessed mad scientists and jesters determined to indulge their talents.

Several originals shimmer beautifully with a live treatment ("Zilla a Trois," "Shinjuku,", "Skitso"), each one revealing that Keller can shake off his influences and give us original and engaging instrumental work, which is deceptively hard to manage. "One Way Johnny" stands out as perhaps his most "songwriterly" song on the album, revealing Keller's attachment to writing straightforward, honest material that manages to sink into your skin while engaging your ears. On the wordless and otherworldly cosmic exercises of "Dance of the Freek," and "Dudelywah," he drapes your ears with buoyant and densely woven trip-hop that oozes from the speakers with sonic clarity and forceful frivolity. The covers vary from concise, addictive renderings like "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough," and "Under Pressure," to captivatingly indulgent ones like "Moondance," "For What It's Worth," and "Bird Song." The latter few manage to move into classic Keller-style improvisation, giving him time to stretch out on the song's original dynamic, while holding firm to his own off-center execution of it.

Williams' music is, at moments, timeless and beautifully tattered, at others, humorously off-center and skillfully crazed. It's this ability to juggle with all of these personae that make him captivating, make him an original, and make him worth remembering. With the torrent of ideas cascading from Stage, it’s interesting to think about where he can go from here. With nearly ten guitars, a Theremin, a mini drum kit, a xylophone, and countless toys and electronics, it seems he’s reached a kind of zenith in his looping, like his sound could collapse under its own weight if taken further and further. But, for now, Stage delivers — showing that the music is still vibrant, with Keller’s singular style, talent, and humor perfectly intact.

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