Jim McAuley
Gongfarmer 36

(Long Song Records)

A small package which appeared totally out of the blue in my mailbox makes it possible for me to update the story of US guitarist Jim McAuley, four years after the release of his fine "variable line-up" double CD titled The Ultimate Frog. Readers will recall that my first encounter with Jim McAuley's music had also been born out of serendipity, also thanks to my mailbox.

In my review of said album I had half-jokingly filed the featured music under "Incus meets Takoma", that is to say an approach to improvisation which makes ample reference to traits that are peculiar to various strains of American music and which made apparent McAuley's "thematic" approach - a definition that can be used to indicate a "theme" as the word is nowadays commonly understood, but also a "climate" or a "mood" - while making use of many guitar techniques that are "indigenous" to those styles.

An album of duets, The Ultimate Frog closing track was a piece for solo guitar, For Rod Poole: a very fine performance that made me curious about a McAuley solo album. Such an album did, in fact, exist, having been released under the title Gongfarmer 18 in 2005 by Nine Winds. Meanwhile, it was with great surprise that I happened to learn from McAuley himself - my curiosity about his music and his life made me ask him for an interview - that with the only exception of an album on Incus titled Acoustic Guitar Trio, the music featured on Gongfarmer 18 more or less told "the whole story" when it came to adult-age McAuley.

It's with a pinch of contrition that I have to admit that to this day I've never listened to Gongfarmer 18. So I can't trace any smart comparison between tracks titled Dark Blooming, Blues For Wally Blanchette, Eyelids Of Buddha, and Nika's Waltz (and maybe Kneebounce), and those which appear on the new album under titles such as Second Blooming, Blues For John Carter, The Eyelids Of Buddha, and nika's Waltz (and maybe Plect's Bounce).

But I can trace a parallel between tracks off The Ultimate Frog such as nika's Love Ballad and Jump Start, which were featured in duo format with Nels Cline's string instruments, and November Night, a duo with Alex Cline's percussion, and those solo versions of nika's Waltz, Jumpstart, and Another November Night which are featured on Gongfarmer 36.

Jim McAuley's new album assembles tracks of various origin and vintage, with alternate takes of tracks that already appeared in a studio guise, tracks recorded live, new tracks, and even a home-made DAT recording, with fine recorded sound and a remarkable musical coherence. It's an "accessible" album, not at all "difficult", though it's a bit unclear to me what its potential buying audience could be.

This could be entirely due to my deficient imagination, of course, though I can easily recall a time when "music for guitarists" - such being the name we used to indicate those mostly acoustic, mostly US-originated albums - was featured on "rock" magazines (true, those were also the times of successful acoustic tours of groups such as Hot Tuna and Grateful Dead), while today's scenario is quite nebulous.

Let's have a look at the tracks.

Second Blooming, for classical guitar, is a "permutation" of flamenco, with a fine lyrical quality.

Blues For John Carter, for steel string, sounds like a fusion of blues and far-east slide, with "dramatic" arpeggios, and a "suspension" of narrative. Not to be missed, a light but sad little theme which appears about halfway, and also at the close of the track.

Another November Night, with its "rainy" and "menacing" climate, and which features sounds which are almost onomatopoeic, highlights those "raindrops" from the 12-string with a tuning fork. Full chords, slidin'. A tense mood, quite dissonant, then a "pedal".

What Part Of Maybe (Don't You Understand?), quite brief, for dobro and slide, is an "implicit/explicit" country-blues.

Una Lunga Canzone, for classical guitar, is a long home improvisation recorded on DAT. Maybe a bit "looser" than those other tracks, it shows a spirit that's quite "in the moment". There's a clear melodic mood, a slow "rumination". Some "jazz" moments are also noteworthy, with much "swing", at about halfway.

Joy Buzzer, quite brief, for classical guitar, and emery board.

At about 11', The Eyelids Of Buddha, for 12-string and slide, is the longest track on the album. Harmonics galore! There's a fine theme, meditative, and quite melancholic. This track shows a "progression", a "direction", though the featured material are quite diverse.

Plect's Bounce, for prepared guitar, has some microtonal bass notes, almost like a koto. Sounds brief, but it ain't.

Saltarello/Jumpstart is a combination of a Renaissance "dance" piece penned by Vincenzo Galilei (according to the album's liner notes, at least) and - after a brief passage rich with harmonics - Jumpstart, whose theme is quite easy to recognize. There's a "blues" mood for classical guitar, which goes hand-in-hand with the "dance" nature of the preceding track.

In closing, nika's Waltz is a delicate piece for 12-string and slide sounding halfway between a harpsichord and a musical box. There's a melodic theme played "slide", with high notes above an arpeggiated ostinato. "Smorzando"... and a warm applause (to the track and, by inference, the whole album).

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2013

CloudsandClocks.net | Jan. 14, 2013