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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Guitar - Duos (Part 1): Leading tones, sympathetic harmonies, and unobservable mysteries

In my last installment of guitar focused reviews, I covered solo recordings (see part 1, part 2), here I expand the focus to duos. If I were being stringent, I'd also stick to straight guitar duos, but I did not feel like limiting it so much, therefore to get into this batch the requirements was at least one guitar and one something else. Part 2 of duos will come soon, it is in the works. (update: here it is)

the why - ...this earth (s/r, 2020) ****

Guitar and Drums. A nice combo with many possibilities for rhythm, melody and harmony - or even none at all. On ...this earth, the why, the duo of guitarist Anders Nilsson and drummer Jeremy Carlstedt, employ all three with gusto. The opening track 'Sunset' is 10 minutes of sturm und drang. Carlstedt generates a big, supportive sound that is deceptively primitive (I mean this in a very positive way) and highly effective. Anders, after a building tempest of twisting single note lines, lets out a distorted knot of chord fragments. The two then continue at maximum power until nearly the end of the track. In contrast, the track 'Rustling Trees' holds back the tension for a long, long time. The nearly 7-and-a-half minute track sees Nilsson delivering a repetitive harmonic figure over roiling drums. Then, just a little over the half-way mark, thick distorted chord and snippets of melody, like reverb-laden leaves whoosh past. 'Dawn', the last track, catches the ear with some swagger as blues-ridden riffs ripple from Nilsson's guitar propelled with abandon by Carlstedt. The two have collaborate before, notable on the drummer's quartet recording Sound Escapes with saxophonist Brian Settles and bassist Danton Boller, also from last year.

Samuel Blaser and Marc Ducret - Audio Rebel (Blaser Music, 2020) ****

Guitar and Trombone. Here is another instance where I've let you all down. I've been selfishly enjoying guitarist Marc Ducret and trombonist Samuel Blaser's duo recording Audio Rebel for the past year and not sharing it with anyone. Recorded at an event at the venue Audio Rebel in Rio de Janeiro in September 2013, this archival recording is still as fresh as can be. Blaser is always an exciting trombonist and Ducret's work is similarly beyond compare, and they both brought effervescent energy and enthusiasm to the stage that night. Opening track 'Audio Rebel' begins with Ducret striking a chord and then teasing out some lingering vibrations from the lower strings, while Blaser slides deliberately into long tones and short figures. Over the course of 10 minutes, the two of them develop a wild dialog that really catches fire towards the middle. The follow up, 'Rio,' showcases Ducret at first playing knotty single note runs and stretching our some chordal tones. Blaser then joins in with low pedal tones and a series of multiphonics. The two seem caught in discussion, but operating on their own wavelengths, resulting in a bifurcated dialog that feels simultaneously reactive and independent. An excellent album and just one of several recordings that Blaser has made available on his Bandcamp site during the past year.

Wendy Eisenberg-Stephen Gauci - Pandemic Duets (gaucimusic, 2021) ****

Guitar and Saxophone. Saxophonist Stephen Gauci is a top-notch musician and a tireless concert organizer in New York City. When the pandemic hit, his ongoing musical series in Brooklyn was put on hold and he turned to releasing digital releases of new recordings called the "Pandemic Duets." There is a whole series of these available on this Bandcamp site. Two of the 19 recordings feature guitarists, and together they really highlight how different one can approach the instrument! 

Guitarist Wendy Eisenberg starts off the collaboration sounding like an angry R2 unit from a galaxy far, far away. Gauci reciprocates, maybe a little more forcefully, but certainly more playfully, than an exasperated C3P0. They come to terms quickly, and on the next track (the sequence is simple numbered 1 - 14) the guitarist and saxophonist engage in an a mutual call and response with quick statements. It can get rather wild at times and as the numbers progress it seems that two settle into a shared musical language. '#7' is interesting as Eisenberg adds some tasty, crunchy distortion and engages in a thrilling chase with Gauci, who employs all sorts of extended techniques as he runs along.

Jonathan Goldberger-Stephen Gauci - Pandemic Duets (gaucimusic, 2021) ***½

Guitar and Saxophone. With Jonathan Goldberger, things start out quite differently. Whereas Eisenberg uses pretty much a clean, dry tone, Goldberger kicks off with a thick, drippy distorted one. Looping a thick, drippy 'base'-line, he then adorns it a smattering of chords. Gauci responds with a somewhat chaotic mix of straight ahead playing and urgent squawks. The sounds spill over into track #2, where Goldberger's loop is now an underlying pulsation, over which the saxophonist wrangles out some eviscerating sounds. Only towards the end of the track does the guitarist come in with mirroring of the aforementioned sax lines. On #4, the two relax a bit and the guitar delivers some spacious melodic lines, the result is one of the more accessible tracks on a challenging recording.

Francois Houle & Samo Salamon - Unobservable Mysteries (s/r, 2021) ****

Guitar and Clarinet. Another true pandemic collaboration, Slovenian guitarist Samo Salamon and Canadian clarinetist Francois Houle hooked up over the internet at the guitarists initiation. In the liner notes Salamon explains "We have never played together, although we played with many musicians in common ... I contacted Francois if he wanted to do it and he was really enthusiastic about it… the process was so smooth and seemed like we were actually playing live and with each other since there was such a connection immediately." Exchanging 6 recordings each, they improvised over each others half creations with the end result of this excellent album full of interesting and engaging song co-creations. The opening 'Secret Pools' begins with a gentle melody from Houle, then as the tempo picks up through his wonderfully elliptical statements, Salamon joins with clean - I believe electric but played acoustically - six string guitar. I mention the six strings because there is also 12-string employed elsewhere, like on 'The Wandering of Waters,' which is built upon open ended, repetitive figures from the guitarist. There is a great deal of variety over the run of the album, for example 'Longing, Leaving, Staying' does all three, while 'Jug of Breath' is a more frenetic and seemingly free interaction, making it all the more impressive.

Skúli Sverrisson & Bill Frisell - Strata (Newvelle, 2021) ****½

Guitar and Bass. Guitarist Bill Frisell has been as busy as ever, recently releasing the brilliant Valentine with a trio and several sumptuous duo recordings with bassist Thomas Morgan and appearing in many other configurations, like the excellent new one from Charles Lloyd, Tone Poem. This album, Strata, was released previously on LP by the members-only label Newvelle Records. Like the quote attributed to Stewart Brand, 'information wants to be free,' it seems like the label has freed the information from gem from the exclusive vinyl grooves to the bits and bytes of the internet. Good for us! This first time meeting between the hyper-sympathetic American guitarist and the seemingly like-minded Icelandic bassist and the results are fantastically melodic and unassailably empathetic. Kicking off with "Sweet Earth', we are in sublime Frisell country. Gentle open ended melodic statements seem to effortlessly emanate from the flowing tune. Neither musician tried to outshine, it sounds rather like tacit mutual agreement. 'Instants,' the next track, could fit easily on an early Frisell album like In Line (ECM, 1983). Sverrisson provides solid but reserved support for the guitarists arpeggiated statements and slightly tension filled chord stops. 'Cave of Swimmers' is built on a haunting chord progression sketched out using widely placed intervals and the closing 'Her Room' is hymn like, with Sverrisson using an ethereal effect that hints at a choir. Soothing, yes; hypnotic, sure; excellent, absolutely.

Joel Harrison - Guitar Talk (AGS Recordings, 2021) ****

Guitar and Guitar / Bass Guitar. Joel Harrison has been a vital force in the New York contemporary jazz scene for a number of years. I recall several different events that involved a who is who of musical heroes - like tributes to Carla Bley and Pat Metheny as well as festivals featuring unique combinations of musicians (writing from my flawed memory is absolutely dangerous and unreliable, but I think I have the spirit of it, at least, right). So, an album of duos that places Harrison in combination with a who-is-who of top rate modern/contemporary jazz guitar players is in perfect fuzzy alignment. 

For Guitar Talk, Harrison composed many simple, highly melodic songs that left adequate space for mutual invention. Of course the album of duos begin with a trio and ends with a solo performance, but those are mere details, what we hear are relaxed, sophisticated collaborations that draw on the sensibilities of the involved musicians, like Ben Monder, Steve Cardenas, Pete McCann, and David Gilmore. The sublime counterpoint with McCann on "Sunday Night with Vic" - a tribute to the late Vic Juris - is just one of many highlights. In fact, the two collaborations with Steve Swallow are more than worth the price of the album - hearing the nimble and ever inquisitive Swallow's bass guitar work is a pure joy. The final two tracks are solo pieces, and as far as I could tell, they do use overdubs, rather just incredible rich chord melodies. The last track is a post-modern take on "America the Beautiful" that is as abstracted, refracted, and fragile as the actual place.

Eric Hofbauer & Dylan Jack - Remains of Echoes (Creative Nations Music, 2019) ****

Guitar and Drums. With so many albums from 2020/2, why go back to 2019? Well, Remains of Echoes is one that has been on my mind for a while and it seems to just fit in well here. Boston area guitarist Eric Hofbauer has many varies projects, may on his Creative Nations Music label, and all are worth a look. This duo with Hofbauer and drummer Dylan Jack focuses on songs from musicians that have been mutual influential such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Mingus, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and Don Cherry as well as choice members of the rock tribe. The album begins with fun arrangement of the Police's 'Walking on the Moon,' which starts out high on the verisimilitude scale, but then starts fracturing in captivating, satisfying ways. Monk's 'Let's Call This' is as halting and beautifully pointillistic as it should be. A highly enjoyable album.

Tatsuya Nakatani & Shane Parish - Interactivity (Cuneiform, 2021) ****

Guitar and Drums. Same combo as above but what a different outcome - or approach - well, both. Guitarist Shane Parish and drummer Tatsuya Nakatani are have been performing together for a decade (Parish lives in Ashville, North Carolina and Nakatani in New Mexico) and Interactivity is their aptly titled second album. Parish is heard here on acoustic guitar, digging deep into folk and finger style playing, and often is the centering force as Nakatani shifts from providing an organic pulse to textural disturbances. 'Threadbare' begins with a quiet storm of drums and a simple repeating finger picked figure on the guitar. The melodic figure widens, more notes fill in, leading tones and sympathetic harmonies at once arise, while the palette of percussion grows more intense with crashes, scrapes and well chosen chimes. The guitar work borders on classical at times, with strict rhythmic patterns and consonant passages, and with the expressive percussion it flows naturally. The next track 'Sight Lines' is a great example of the breadth of their collaboration - the guitar work is excitingly jagged and the percussion follows and fills perfectly. A wonderful collaboration that engages the listener with a push and pull of the familiar as well as alluring danger.

E. Jason Gibbs & Nat Baldwin - Microstates (577Orbit, 2021) ****

Guitar and Bass. Here is an excerpt from 577 Orbit's website about Microstates: "the album is full of fragmented and immersive musical interludes, testing the boundaries of their instrument’s intended usages and the structure of composition." This is as good as any description that I may come up with.
I wrote about E. Jason Gibbs' recent solo recording Wolves of Heaven in my last roundup of solo guitar works, in which I mentioned how he "plucks, bends, wiggles, and likely whacks the instrument, letting the natural sounds and overtones fill the air around him." This is still partially true on Microstates, but here Gibbs is joined by bassist Nat Baldwin for a series of splintered duets that, as the quotes suggest, do not allow what the instrument is supposed to do limit their approach. The interactions focus on the microscopic, but the larger picture is not ignored, as each track follows an innate narrative structure building on a musical language the two musicians have been developing for some time together. Bowed bass tones, harmonic mayhem, and acoustically unboundedness abounds on these 7 improvised tracks.

Jack Cooper & Jeff Tobias - Tributaries (Astral Spirits, 2021) ***½

Guitar and Saxophone. So this is one that I had a bit of a heads up on as it does not release until next month. Tributaries from guitarist Jack Cooper and saxophonist Jeff Tobias are two 'side long' compositions based on the tone row compositional method that were then used to improvise over. The result is a meandering rivulets of music that come together in accessible melodies featuring wide intervals. The combination of instruments and note choices sometimes even end up sounding like an accordion at times. A meditative experience.


Chris said...

Wow! A whole load of albums that I didn’t even know existed! Always a pleasure to listen to Samuel Blaser and Marc Ducret - great post Paul.

Loki Motive said...

Seems to be a mistake in your Eisenberg/Gauci review. You mention Sandy Evans as Gauci's collaborator.

Paul said...

Thanks Loki Motive - fixed!

Stuart Broomer said...

An amazing range. THank you for all the useful information!