More genre busting improv exercises from guitarist Chadbourne, together with pedal...
Peter Marsh 2003-01-28
If there's anyone on the planet who could produce an album that could conceivably appeal to both lovers of free improvisation and country music (a tall order, let's be honest), it's Eugene Chadbourne. And by criminy, if the man responsible for Country Music in the World of Islam ain't been and gone and done it.
An Afternoon in Austin (subtitled Country Music for Harmolodic Souls)was made at the same time as the second chapter of Chadbourne's Doug Sahm tribute, which also featured Susan Alcorn's pedal steel. It's a mix of free improv and typically wayward Chadbourne takes on tunes by Merle Haggard, Mickey Newbury and Loretta Lynn (one of the good doctor's original notions was a covers project of tunes by Lynn and Sun Ra).
Alcorn more than rises to the challenge; she's a beautiful player, capable of sweet, longing lines (as on the 11 minute drift of Haggard's doleful "If we Make it Through December" which slowly ravels and unravels itself into a strange dialogue of faltering melodies) or ghostly resonances.
She's got big ears, as they say in jazz; capable of following the skewed logic of Chadbourne's acoustic guitar or banjo with precision and imagination. As usual, Eugene's sense of humour is in full effect (check the avant hoedown of "Sugene")yet he never sounds like he's disrespecting his sources; having fun with them maybe, which ain't no bad thing.
On the vocal tunes, his nasal singing seems to flirt with parody, but it's hard to tell. But of course this is the man who played Albert Ayler tunes on a banjo,and second guessing him is a pointless task. As ever his guitar playing is unpredictable, sometimes irritating even, but never dull, and he is capable of breathtakingly lovely bursts of melody. He certainly remains one of the great avant guitar heroes (for want of a better phrase).
To borrow Brian Eno's description of the output of Miles Davis, there's very little self censorship in Chadbourne's release policy. The huge mountain of self produced stuff he's put out makes it hard to get a grip on what he does, which I suspect is just the way he wants it. An Afternoon in Austin won't offer much enlightenment on that score, but who cares. Enjoy.