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Monday, August 8, 2022

N. O. Moore - Llanfechain (Scatter, 2022)

By Stuart Broomer

Since first emerging a few years ago on Darkened, Yet Shone, in a trio with John Edwards and Eddie Prévost, N.O. Moore has appeared as a distinctly electric, even electronic guitarist (“guitarism” is his term for it). It’s evident, too, in another trio with Prévost (Nous with saxophonist Jason Yarde [Matchless]) and when pairing with the similarly electronic guitarist Henry Kaiser in the quintet of The Secret Handshake with Danger (577). Playing with the quartet Improvisers Inside Electronics on The Birds of Four Mirrors (dx/dy), Moore has forgone the guitar entirely in favour of electronics, playing “stereo field and dark energy”. His previous solo guitar recording, Dreamt Across Tangled Electron , on the Bandcamp label Breaking Up in the Atmosphere, is adamantly electronic.

Llanfechain , named for the Welsh village in which it was recorded, changes that dramatically. Playing a steel-string flattop acoustic guitar, both indoors and out, Moore reveals a musical personality as developed in the acoustic realm as in the electric. The first six pieces, from 1:16 to 6:42 in length, are entitled “inside a” to “inside f”. The first is a miniature, a brief reverie, while “inside b” immediately establishes Moore’s authority. He has a facility with complex materials that suggests a drum kit, both in its percussiveness and in the ability to both combine and move rapidly amongst multiple sounds. “inside c”, a more extended reverie than “a”, is filled with subtle resonances among harmonics, while “d” is shape-shifting, moving through a passage of micro-glissandi to single-note phrases animated anew by legacy jazz phrasing. “inside e” explores dissonances within tight-knit, microscopically varied, percussive phrases; “inside f” is almost dance-like, ranging from odd, compound arpeggios to memories of skittering jazz and even spectral syncopation.

As fine as this material is, it may feel prefatory to the ultimate “Outsides”, a 27-minute piece recorded in the Welsh countryside. From the outset, the harmonics are allowed to hang longer in the air, phrases seem to stretch further, with more space between them. A segment can mix short, scintillating, upper-register glissandi with sudden propulsive bass figures (as if some mysterious boogie is going on somewhere, somewhen, seeping through the earth and time). A muffled, reflective aside might arise, or there may be a sense of sustained wandering in a new territory, anticipation and hesitation mingling with each subtle shift in direction. Relations between adjacent tones or a single interval might be interrogated. Moments of reverie can turn pensive, and vice versa, the music reflecting and inspiring a concentration on instants, moments evolving into other dimensions with unexpected yet organic shifts in technique and mood, until by the closing moments, Moore achieves levels of complexity and intensity that suggest the oddly blues-reminiscent virtuosity of certain Indian string players.

The cumulative impact of Moore’s flattop, metal-string, indoor/outdoor acoustic improvisations is a kind of compound creative intimacy, combining something of the familiarity of the “American Primitive” school (John Fahey, Robbie Basho) with the lightning mutations and concentrated invention of free improvisation (Derek Bailey, John Russell).