(Long Song Records)
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
have a look at the tracks.
Blooming, for classical guitar, is a "permutation" of flamenco,
with a fine lyrical quality.
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.
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".
Part Of Maybe (Don't You Understand?), quite brief, for dobro and slide,
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.
Buzzer, quite brief, for classical guitar, and emery board.
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.
Bounce, for prepared guitar, has some microtonal bass notes, almost like
a koto. Sounds brief, but it ain't.
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.
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
"slide", with high notes above an arpeggiated ostinato.
"Smorzando"... and a warm applause (to the track and, by inference,
the whole album).
© Beppe Colli 2013
| Jan. 14, 2013