Saturday, November 1, 2008

Steve Gunn - S/T (Abandon Ship Records CD-R)

Here's another Abandon Ship outing, this time in the form of a solo outing from GHQ member(as well as sometime Zac Davis collaborator) Steve Gunn. A reissue from the Onomato label, the self titled disc is a collection largely comprised of solo guitar improvisations which, according to the label description, are based to some extent around travels to Morocco. It sounds it too.

The first track, "Young Subjects," is a nice drifting excursion that opens on some kind of string drone looped over and over before finger picked/frailed/sailed acoustic guitar leads the tour. What sounds like a mandolin enters next, acting as lead over the now looped guitar chordal pattern. Largely based in some modal, eastern-tinged chordal pattern, the whole thing floats along with the great delicacy and beauty, truly evoking not only that particular region of the world, but also a general sense of travel as art and narrative as travel. The closing electric guitar freak out only adds to the mystery.

Whereas "Young Subjects" consisted of a fair amount of layering on Gunn's part, "For Tyrone Hill" is all solo acoustic improvisation, though with the chops that Gunn has it would not be a stretch to assume there were others here. Opening with a series of ringing, open ended chords, the piece builds over it's nearly seven minutes into a work of real beauty--you can really hear the sounds of the strings against the wood here as he raps his hand over the metal, interweaving lines of delicate and careful runs. Comparisons to Fahey are inevitable--especially toward the middle--but Gunn takes an even more stripped down and overtly (at least harmonically) eastern approach as he builds finger picked waterfalls out of the near silent pools between them.

"Jerone and Jimi Chaplin" starts off with a distant hammering of the strings, allowing the guitar to reverberate and solidify its overtones against the rasping sound of the strings hammering against themselves. A small clicking cymbal comes in shortly before the acoustic solo enters, breathes, and expands. At under five minutes, it's the shortest work on the set, but it needs no more time than that to realize its fragile beauty.

"Two of Ammon" follows, closing the disc on a long fifteen minute suite of sorts. Heidi Diehl of Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice, as well as Time-Life, guest features on voice here, though the opening, with its horn solo and long, bowed string drones, wouldn't have you suspecting as much. Something like tabla drums come in to the construction, making for a distant drone effect that is soon disrupted by some of the most well crafted guitar work on the disc. It's a languid state, notes ricocheting off each other, furling and unfurling into some sort of back porch sailing venture. An electric guitar is soon layered over top, adding an epic touch that somehow fits right in to this otherwise less is more approach. When Diehl's voice comes in, it is only to summon tiny melodies of half-whispered lullabies hummed on a lonely sandy shore. The piece ends palindromically, returning to the strummed guitar and finally the horn solo over the strummed string. Quite a lovely structure for such an expansive musical gesture.

Gunn's guitar work is of great character--he never over plays, opting for carefully chosen and overtly melodic material that suggests both Moroccan traditionalism and an overtly experimental edge. That he can so obviously pull from such rich musical backgrounds without diffusing it into anything less his own statement is an accomplishment indeed.

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