Daily Archives: July 3, 2008

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

ELLIOTT SHARP – Octal: Book One (CFG 002)

Always at the forefront of guitar experimentation, perennially interested in discovering the varying gradations of resonance and in unusual orchestrations at large, Elliott Sharp is the prototype of the forward-looking artist with feet remaining well-planted in his predecessors’ soil of achievement. His love of the blues equals the passion for mathematic formulas applied to a musical design and, in “Octal”, all of the above reaches the boiling point through eight exceptional tracks performed on a 8-string Koll electro-acoustic whose technical features are painstakingly described by E#, together with the approach to the recording, in liner notes that alone are worth of owning the album. So much for those “slap a microphone in front of the soundhole and strum your ass off” nonentities who keep plaguing the guitar world. The reference felt as nearest in this instance is “Quadrature” – one of Sharp’s veritable milestones – although the tuning in this first “book” is more or less standard (EADGBE with the additional bass strings tuned to low E and B; Sharp promises to analyze different tunings in future editions). The resplendent timbre of the Koll, in cooperation with the performer’s ability in the execution of pieces that are basically notated yet open to interpretation and improvisation, allows the music to assume shapes and reverberations rarely heard in a solo setting. Percussive factors, droning halos – also courtesy of a sapient eBow usage – and unpredictable combinations of harmonics are all part of the recipe, the sonic matter benefiting from the mixture of thoughtful restraint and multidirectional ears that the adoptive New Yorker demonstrates throughout, “tribally minimalist” arpeggio flurries sealing the whole. A classic case of “enough with words, where’s my VISA?”.


Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

BERNARDO SASSETTI – Dùvida (Trem Azul – TA 002)

Besides being a talented pianist and composer, Bernardo Sassetti is among the best soundtrack artists around today, the author of masterpieces such as “Alice” (a film by Marco Martins which he scored, touching my heart in every minute). “Dùvida”, which features the Orquestra Sinfonietta de Lisboa in several of its passages, is not on the same level of that milestone yet remains an excellent example of how to use different shades in an arrangement while exploiting one or two simple concepts by putting them at work in diverse circumstances. This is the commentary to a theatre performance held in 2007 at the Teatro Maria Matos in Lisbon, which Sassetti underlines and characterizes through his customary piano-based revelations mixing heavy-hearted melancholy and romantic variations on minimalism. What’s perceived as the recurring theme sounds a bit like a cross of Philip Glass circa “Glassworks” and the arpeggio of “Anyway” (Genesis, “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”). A too simplistic description maybe, yet this must not detract from the many qualities of the album, which utilizes repetition and delicacy as non-invasive reminders of the fact that life is not, and will never be, just something limited to the sheer trust in a “superior entity” without striving for the betterment of our earthly presence. Sassetti’s music is the kind of soul-opening expression that results as grieving as the passage from adolescence to adulthood in sensitive beings, giving the idea of phases of existence that can be recollected but won’t return.

Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

MARK O’LEARY – On the shore (CF 091)
The name of Irish guitarist O’Leary is popping up rather frequently these days, and it does it in very different contexts involving artists as diverse as Paul Bley, Mat Maneri and Günter Müller. His guitar style changes mask quite often too, depending on the occasion. This album, recorded in 2003 and which we have no problem in linking with a “near ECM” aesthetic, sees him on electric and 12-string acoustic flanked by drummer and percussionist Alex Cline and the trumpet duo of Jeff Kaiser – boss of the pfMENTUM label – and John Fumo. The titles – of the CD and the tracks – are pretty much self-explanatory about the kind of vistas evoked by the quartet, the players even imitating the voices of seagulls at one point. Everything is channelled into a relaxed enough vibe despite the absence of typical turnarounds and hooks; this is favoured by the leader’s choice of alternating a graciously clogged clean tone (reminiscent of one of the references quoted in the press release, John Abercrombie) in the most linear playing with sudden shifts of gear under the guise of semi-overdriven nervousness, modifying the music’s pulse in several instances. Cline performs brightly, also utilizing sticks, stones and shells collected by O’Leary around the Cork Harbour (the place that basically inspired this music), refined accompaniment and virtuoso interplay highlighting his presence. The timbral pairing of Kaiser and Fumo is both a complementary colour and a premier creative partnership for the successful realization of the guitarist’s concepts, their instruments at times nearly invisible, elsewhere purposefully focused in maintaining an atmosphere of utter suspension amidst fading memories.