...a lovely, intriguing set of improvisations.
Dan Hill 2002
Not an imaginative name, but an imaginative record. This trio of Rod Poole (acoustic guitar, bowed guitar), Nels Cline (acoustic guitars), and Jim McAuley (acoustic guitars) have produced a lovely, intriguing set of improvisations. If you're thinking you like improvised acoustic guitar trios as much as the next chap, but that you're not sure you could eat a whole one, think again.
Recorded in Los Angeles, 2000, it's taken a while for Incus to get this out, but their venerable status as probably "the first independent, musician - run record company in Britain" cuts them a little slack. That, and this release, which is way more accessible and intrinsically, well, lovely than many Incus records.
It starts cautiously enough with some querulous, probing incursions, but Cline, McAuley, and Poole have played together in LA for some time, and their empathy is quickly obvious (according to Cline, they sometimes make up tunings minutes before improvising!) Cline, of course, is one of great guitar players around at this point, 2000's The Inkling being a recent highlight. Poole's earlier Iasisalbum was a small gem, and McAuley is apparently a specialist in Renaissance and Baroque classical guitar, but effortlessly at home in this company.
It's difficult to pick the players apart, though they are separated nicely across the stereo image, should you have such a thing. At several points, it actually recalls one of Robert Fripp's Guitar Craft lessons, perhaps when our Bob pops out of the room to call Toyah in for her tea or something, and the class just strrreeettch out a little while the cat's away. The timbre is the same - several acoustics locking horns (though without the overgrown harpsichord sound Guitar Craft sometimes had, thank goodness) - and the improvised melodic approach is similar too.
Chock full of surprises, this record rarely sits still. Violent and brutal in places, the trio can suddenly lock into impossibly pretty minimalist patterns, as on "My You" or "Extinguished By Rain". Several long pieces build with mesmeric momentum. The players rumbling, sawing, worrying away. The occasional bluesy slides slips in incongruously, a dashing flash of colour amidst buzzing drone-like pulses. Sometimes it sounds like a bunch of ants decorating; other times like the inside of a grandfather clock, ticking and clanging. Wonderful stuff.
The final, extraordinary "Seventeen Step" is indeed seventeen minutes long, but these musicians are aware of how to fill a space creatively. A detailed recording highlights the dynamic sense on show here, and an hour scoots by in no time.
It ends perfectly, with a satisfyingly decisive, koto-like twang.
Like This? Try These:
Nels Cline Singers - Instrumentals
Roger Smith - Green Wood