I'd never realized I hadn't heard a bass guitar / acoustic guitar / electric guitar line-up throughout an entire LP until laying ears on this little gem, and it's a killer idea, especially the way this trio carries it off. Collide the Towner / Abercrombie collabs with the quieter tamer Frisell materials, toss in the equally restrained Jonas Hellborg / Buckethead work, not to mention the more thoughtful segments from those righteous duet LPs Coryell did with various axewielders (Khan, Catherine, etc.) in the late 70s, and you have the sort of laid back, intelligent, highly refined colloquy exhibited here.
Bassist Stephan Crump is the agent provocateur but not necessarily the centerpiece; it's hard to occupy that zone against two guitars. His work, though, is reminiscent of Teri Plumeri, who released a couple of interesting indie LPs way back when, after a bunch of session work. However, the format's somewhat more like the David Friesen discs of the same era, the ones with John Stowell, though much more ECM-ish, lazy, redolent of balmy summers on the desert's edge, spare but complex in texture and tastes.
Jamie Fox amped his electric down so that it mates with the acoustic perfectly, complementing and supplementing rather than taking over. Nor has he slipped in any devices—or, if he has, they're unnoticeable, rather like John McLaughlin's recent Photon augmentations. Liberty Ellman is then free to exercise his acoustic in a natural application instead of having to bash away in order not to get swept under. Crump, save for illuminated passages, prefers a slight recessing, generously letting his compeers take and keep center stage. The result holds a perfect middle between fusion and chamber musics, moreover balanced in set compositions and soloing.
Residual features a beautiful demonstration of returning themes, echoing itself several times, sauntering out a tropical wistfulness against the setting sun. Its follower, Our Survival, alternates between Jobim-ish latin flavors and European continentalisms, reflecting the aesthetics of older cultures, with tangs and layers rarely present in the brasher American styles. It's broken in the middle by a tempo-stymieing solo from Crump, arranging for the returning guitars to pick up the pace a minute later, heading into more clearly Spanish antecedents colored by bluegrassy prairie vigor, completely reinventing the structure. The short Atanarjuat is the most propulsive number, serial minimal and vaguely later-Soft Machinish, atypical but a nice bracer.
On another website I critique for, I'd already sent off my "15 Favorite Recordings of 2006" and wish now I hadn't: this would definitely have been on it had I only requested the disc a few weeks earlier. Alas…for lack of such, empires have oft crumbled to dust! However, this is so understatedly unusual that I don't see it passing by many critics' ears, so expect to read of it in someone else's ode to the striking CDs of the past twelvemonth…hopefully DownBeat and that crowd.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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