Best 2008 / Destination Out: Year in Review 2008
Instead of building one top ten list from the many disparate styles of electronic ambience, non-linear improv, experimental rock, avant jazz, droning noise and many more, we’ve asked ten frequent contributors to the Destination Out reviews section to write about one release that most excited them this year.
Empty Cage Quartet – Stratostrophic (CF 103)
Hard to believe such rich, multilayered narratives could be constructed out of the sparse two horns, bass and drums format popularized by Ornette Coleman. Trumpeter Kris Tiner has a beautifully clear swing-to-freebop sound and a gift for phrases that hang provocatively in the air. He’s got a perfect partner in Jason Mears’ lemony alto, and the spiralling, witty extremity of their counterpoint rivals the Zorn/Douglas interplay in Masada. Ivan Johnson and Paul Kikuchi have blossomed into one of the supplest rhythm sections around: rather than locking in together, they pull away from each other in order to let these ultra-elastic grooves breathe.
Elliott Sharp/Scott Fields – Scharfefelder (CFG 003)
Garrison Fewell/Eric Hofbauer – The Lady of Khartoum
Guitar duos present many possibilities for intrepid musicians. Such pairings can be opportunities for boundary-pushing sonic explorations.
Scharfefelder, a collaboration between guitarists Elliott Sharp and Scott Fields, is a frenetic set of duets performed on acoustic guitars. This is a challenging listen, with dissonant passages a common occurrence, but still obvious that both musicians are masters of the instrument. Tracks such as “Branendrane” and “Put your pennies in my Portuguese cork hat” showcase the iconoclastic—and quite different from each other—playing of both guitarists. Sharp and Fields both contributed to the compositional structures here, with each piece more of a loose set of parameters for improvisation than tunes in any conventional sense.
The more musically interesting of the two recordings, The Lady of Khartoum takes inspiration from the music of West Africa and the Middle East. Garrison Fewell, a well-known educator and performer, teams up with fellow guitarist Eric Hofbauer for a collection of mostly improvised duets. Both musicians used prepared guitars in an attempt to simulate the sound of different ethnic instruments such as the kora. Additionally, both use percussion instruments, such as bells hanging from their tuning pegs, to augment the instrumentation and create the desired atmosphere. Tracks like “Dogon Delta Blues” and “Devil at the Salang Pass” are adventurous and quirky, exploring the boundaries of the guitar’s sonic possibilities. “Farsighted Friendship,” a John Tchicai composition (Fewell is a long-time collaborator), is a fitting closing tune, beautiful and contemplative.