Saturday Tiny Reviews special edition!
Featurning Chris Schlarb Making the Saint, Eric Hofbauer American Grace, and Alexander Turnquist Flying Fantasy.
Today’s column focuses on three guitarists, each releasing a solo project recording (well, one has guest musicians performing). None of the recordings would qualify as jazz per se, though in some cases, the musicians have been involved in jazz projects. These are just three albums that I find comforting and intriguing, and which continue to engage me regardless of the passing of time and frequency of listens.
I often leave the Saturday slot for the Something Different series or very blog-y posts and opinion pieces and columns. Today, it’s just three tiny reviews of guitar albums I really enjoy.
Chris Schlarb- Making the Saint
Making the Saint plays like a cathartic experience. After a trio of intricate, highly-collaborative albums (Twilight & Ghost Stories and the two-part Psychic Temple release), guitarist Chris Schlarb became the recluse, retreating to an historic 140-year old cabin secluded in the San Bernardino mountains. He brought with him a few guitars and some recording equipment. He hit the record button and exhaled all of the creativity that had been building up during the time spent on previous projects, both in studio and on tour.
This is introspective guitar music, but sounds to be offered up with a genuine thought to sharing with others. The 19-minute title-track opens the album with the susurrant hum of electronics juxtaposed against the calm poetry of electric guitar blowing sonic bubbles into the air. The brief vocal conceit of “The Great Receiver” keeps the tranquility intact, and though it doesn’t quite stand up to the rest of the album’s tracks, there’s a heart-on-the-sleeve quality to the song that is difficult not to admire.
“The Fear of Death Is the Birth Of God,” with its deeper resonance and washes of electric guitar and electronics brings a sense of urgency to ambient music, an expressionism not unlike fellow-guitarist Roy Montgomery. It’s a type of style where the truly profound is discovered in the confluence of sonic undercurrents. The album’s coda is a charming little rendition of the standard, “My Foolish Heart,” which provides an interesting, additional perspective on where Schlarb’s creative center is versus a more traditional locale. It’s an illuminating conclusion to an unobstructed view of an artist’s flow of ideas.
Your album personnel: Chris Schlarb (acoustic & electric guitars, electronics, voice).
Released in 2014 on Asthmatic Kitty Records.
Available at: Bandcamp | eMusic | Amazon: CD – MP3 – Vinyl
Eric Hofbauer – American Grace
American Grace is the third installment of guitarist Eric Hofbauer‘s “American Trilogy” series, a sonic perspective on American society & culture, expressed through a mix of original compositions and selected renditions that speak to his point of view.
There are standards like “Stella by Starlight,” and there are takes on blues songs like King Oliver’s “West End Blues,” and “Blind” Willie Johnson’s “God Moves on the Water,” the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” and a song from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. There’s also “Idumea,” a sacred harp hymn, which comes from similar roots to that of the recent Dave Douglas-Uri Caine recording, Present Joys. This rendition, in addition to a take on Ornette Coleman’s free jazz “Peace,” speak to the heart of Hofbauer’s vision and how he finds ways to express it concisely and consistently, no matter how diverse the source materials.
And regardless of whether songs move with a tranquil lull or furtive activity, there’s a contemplative nature to these tracks, so that even when all kinds of personality shines through on a particular song, there’s always the sense that something subtle is getting slipped under the radar. This quality provides the necessary intrigue to songs that may only seem simple at first blush.
It’s a nifty facet of Hofbauer’s creative arc, and an interesting contrast to his contributions to other projects, like the Argentinean Jazz of Pablo Ablanedo’s Octeto and Jorrit Dijkstra’s Bolt.
Your album personnel: Eric Hofbauer (guitar).
Released in 2013 on Creative Nation Music.
Available at: eMusic | Bandcamp | CDBaby | Amazon: CD – MP3
Alexander Turnquist – Flying Fantasy
The 12-string guitar of Alexander Turnquist is the sound of snow falling fast, and never quite touching the ground. There is something so very peaceful and calming about this terrifically frenetic music. The beauty of Flying Fantasy is viewed in stark contrast to pain and fear that preceded its creation, first, with the recovery period from nerve injury to Turnquist’s left hand, and then shortly after, a bout of meningitis. It says something about how creativity is both a refuge and a launching point for hope and transformation.
Several tracks, like “House of Insomniacs” and “Finding the Butterfly” bring in vibes, cello, and vocal harmonics to add some richness to the sharp complexion of 12-string guitar. The addition of piano accompaniment to “Wildflower” adds a new dynamic, a bit of warmth in contrast to vibraphone’s iciness, and a slower cadence to contrast with 12-string guitar’s wind sprints. The same can be said for the color of French horn to a track like “Red Carousel.” Title-track “Flying Fantasy” is just the occasional strum of guitar, some loops and the sparse twitter of effects. The silence of this track is almost startling. The album ends much in the way it began- “Cloud Slicing” keeps a brisk pace, marked by the intermittent murmur of piano.
Just a gorgeous recording.
Your album personnel: Alexander Turnquist (acoustic 12-string guitar, grand piano, Hammond B3 organ), Pamela Stein (vocals), Christopher Tignor (violin), Marlan Barry (cello), Jeremy Thal (French horn), Matthew O’Koren (vibraphone, marimba), and Andrew Hiller (snare drum).
Released in 2014 on Western Vinyl.
Available at: eMusic | Amazon: CD – MP3 – Vinyl