Various Artists – “I Never Metaguitar – Solo Guitars for the 21st Century” (CFG 005)
Lately, I’ve been falling in love again with the sound of the guitar. It’s a little orchestra you can carry on your back; plug it in, and you can use it to generate an electronic apocalypse of sci-fi proportions. So I found the arrival of this anthology of forward-looking solo guitar performers, curated for Portuguese li’l-label-that-could Clean Feed by the innovative axe-slinger/composer Elliott Sharp, to be particularly fortuitous. After a couple of spins, I can already tell I’m going to be spending as much time with it as I have with Nels Cline’s Coward and Jeff Beck’s Emotion and Commotion.
Sucker starts off with Mary Halvorson’s “In Two Parts Missing.” Opening with crystalline-toned, two-hand-tapped fret math, Halverson electronically warps and alters her pitch to create a sense of head-spinning discombobulation, then essays some distorted flamenco chords, sounding like a cross between the Sonny Sharrock of Guitar and the Zoot Horn Rollo of “Peon” and “One Red Rose That I Mean.” I guess what I’m saying is, she covers a hell of a lot of sonic turf in just 5:29.
On “Act As If Nothing Ever Happened,” Chicagoan Jeff Parker, whose work with Tortoise I need to investigate, layers searching lines over a shifting backdrop of organ-like chords and pulsing looped scraping noises. Bay Area experimentalist and Beefheart acolyte Henry Kaiser pays a spaciously multi-tracked electro-acoustic tribute to Nels Cline. Jean-Francois Pauvros takes bowed guitar to places Jimmy Page never imagined, making it sound for all the world like a weeping cello. (Electronics are an indispensible element of these solo performances, allowing the players to sample and loop themselves to create architectonic orchestral structures.)
Boulder-based prepared guitar specialist Janet Feder creates an elegiac mood on “Heater.” Raoul Bjorkenheim somehow manages to make his axe sound like a bowed bass, a saxophone, and a flute, sometimes simultaneously. Frenchman Noel Akchote plays a conventional chord progression with a shimmering, tremelo tone, while godfather Nels Cline — who’s poised to become the SRV of experimental guitar, and I mean that in the best way — is uncharacteristically muted and Jim Hall-like. Brandon Ross plays a somber lament on banjo, with wide intervallic leaps, while Mike Cooper plays an Ornette tune on resophonic guitar with slide.
Michael Gregory, a veteran of the ’70s NYC loft scene (when he was known as Michael Gregory Jackson), contributes a mutated Steely Dan blues shuffle. It’s noteworthy that Chicago expat Scott Fields, whose previously Clean Feed release Fugu I reported on earlier this year, recorded the dense and busy improvisation “Buzkashi” totally sans F/X. The sounds on Kazuhisa Uchihashi’s “Little Creatures” are scarcely identifiable as guitar, but not in the same way as Hendrix on Are You Experienced? — rather, the randomized electronic tones recall musique concrete and Stockhausen.
Mick Barr’s “Coiled Malescence” lives up to its name; I found its knife-in-the-ear ECU single-string acrobatics tough going. Luckily, Gunnar Geisse’s “The Day Rauschenberg Met De Kooning” provides some relief with its ringing, although still un-”guitar-like” harmonics. Curator Sharp shuts things down with “Telemetry,” a complex and fast-moving piece that’s more than just an interesting diversion. Those with an ear for this kind of thing should also check out his Octal: Book Two from earlier this year.