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Monday, March 5, 2018

Two Ways of Using the Guitar: Thurston Moore and Loren Connors

Thurston Moore & Umut Caglar – Dunia (Astral Spirits, 2017) ***½

Loren Connors – Angels That Fall (Family Vineyard, 2017) ***½

By Daniel Böker

Two ways of using the guitar. I brought these two very different approaches together because there is a wide range of sounds and aspects that keep the guitar interesting, even after all these years. Maybe there is a connection to my own biography as a listener. First there was a-ha, I have to admit. Then there was the music my elder brother listened to, funk and soul. That had a great influence on me. But my next great influence, and that has never stopped was the sound of a guitar, and the fascination still sticks with me, always searching for new sounds. This brings me to the two albums here that I chose to write about.

First, Thurston Moore & Umut Caglar – Dunia. It is first and foremost a Thurston Moore album. An album as we know it. Just type his name in the search button on the Freejazzblog and you will find a whole bunch of reviews. That is because he is all over the place. He cooperated with almost all the 'big names' in the improvised music scene, and it is a pleasure to see or hear him play.

His sound, his way to treat and play his guitar is recognizable. That is with both his 'incarnations' with the song-oriented pieces with Sonic Youth and on his solo albums and with the improvized music, along with all the other 'heroes' like Mats Gustafsson, The Thing, Merbow, Joe McPhee, John Zorn, to name a few.

As I said his sound is recognizable, and this year for the first time I was bored, at least with his new solo album Rock'n'Roll Consciousness. I heard nothing new, nothing surprising. So I was a bit skeptical when I had the chance to review his collaboration with Umut Calgar. Would I meet just the same familiar sounds and structures?

On the one hand it is exactly that. It is, as I said in the beginning, a Thurston Moore album and following the question of what the guitar can sound like, Moore formed his answer years ago. He is in most parts refining the grammar and the vocabulary at this point, but he won't learn a new language.

While I listen to the album Dunia, I realize that it is not necessary to learn a new one. The one he is capable of is in this case sufficient to keep me listening with interest.

Caglar and Moore seem to speak the same language. (And from now on I will leave this image behind.) The two guitars fit together well.

The first track 'Kensaku' starts off with a lightness of sorts. The two guitars start with some high tones, some scratching over single strings and the more like that. That gives both players the opportunity to show their different sounds and their ways to play. As in a good movie (to pick another arbitrary image) you often know the end beforehand and the interesting question is how the protagonist will get there.

It is already clear in the beginning that the duo will reach a state of sheer noise and will build a so called wall of sound. And so they do. So the interesting question is, how will they get there? And in this respect they both do a good job. Especially with the first track.

The second track 'The Red Sun' is almost already there when it starts. Maybe it is too harsh to say that the variations in the wall of sound are not that big. I don't know how it feels to play such sounds. For me as the listener to this noise the power is very impressive but after a few minutes I realize that I am searching for changes. There are changes. of course, but the dominating impression it leaves with me is the power, the wall of sound, the end of the story without telling the beginning.

So Dunia is an album played in the language Moore developed throughout the years. It adds some words to it. And that is worth listening to it.

Second: Loren Connors – Angels that Fall. Connors on the other side chooses a completely different way of using the guitar. The album reviewed here is just a short detail of his output. Short because it is only one track of 17 minutes, a one-sided vinyl. And 'only' because it is one of his latest releases and we try to be as near to the present as possible with our reviews.

But writing about this album is also writing about Conners and I admit I like his sounds, his music a lot. It is a completely different and sometimes it sounds as if the guitar of Loren Connors was a total different instrument than the one Thurston Moore is playing. (I guess that is exactly what I've always liked about the guitar, it has an almost unending wide range of sounds and possibilities.)

There is a lot of echo on this album, also with other recordings Connors has released. There is a lot of echo and a lot of space. It is not silence exactly, but he has the time to wait for the next tone, the next sound, to add

There is a calmness to the music of Loren Connors that is almost unique. On Angels that Fall there is a constant swoosh of a background noise. Listening carefully you can hear him work his guitar. He uses the strings (of course) but also the corpus of the guitar. And he uses the silence in between.

Writing about all the calmness and silence it would be wrong if I created the impression of a slow or even boring album. (Album might be a huge word for just one track. This is actually one reason why I didn't rate it with four stars.)

Exactly that waiting for the next tone for the next thing to happen creates a great intensity. Near the end of the track there are percussion like sounds and the whole track gets louder and stronger, and then for a few last notes he changes the instrument and plays the piano with the same concentrated calmness he's played the guitar.

For sure Connors also has his own language he developed with and for his instrument. And with this language his sound is recognizable. But it is a total different language. He builds tension through calmness and it carries a dark notion with it sometimes.

His work is definitely worth a try.

And for me the guitar is still one of the most interesting instruments.