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CD Feature/ E. Ryan Goodman: "Under the Lamp"; James Beaudreau: "Fresh Twigs"

img  Tobias

Snow had come and draped the evening shore in a peaceful sourdine of frozen softness. The foggy luminance of the city flickered weakly beyond the bridge, reflecting in the wind-rippled, lava-like skin of the black river like the harbour lights in the opening sequence to „The Usual Supects“. A dark narrow path was playfully winding through the landscape, ominously disappearing into the dark of the approaching night. As a bell tolled dimly in the distance, a man with headphones clamped over a blue cap suddenly appeared on the horizon. Leaning into the cold, he marched forward, his hands in his  pockets and his head searching for warmth in the safety of his long, woolen trenchcoat. Turning up the volume just a little, a smile started appearing on his face, his eyes glowing as the music seemed to approach an uncertain climax.

When this man sits down behind his desk tonight, he is going to write a glowing review of this disc. But for now, he is even without concept as to where he is going. He is listening to „Under the Lamp“ by E.R. Goodman, an album comprising of twenty improvisations for solo Guitar. Taped over a span of more than a year, every recording still caries the unique traces of the day it was created, like dust-covered bottles of red whine dug up from the innards of a cellar, each one revealing ever-so-subtle nuances in taste. Space itself has turned into a valuable production technique and hardly perceptible, dreamy hiss into a treasured effect, while different microphone settings make Goodman sound as though he were standing at the back of a huge hall in one moment and sitting right next to his audience in the other. And yet, the record flows and interconnects as if all tracks were intended as related movements of a single work.

In the first couple of tracks (and on beautifully brittle one-minute opening miniature „Morning“ especially), Goodman comes across as a classical composer with a deep love for dark Jazz, like an American Leo Brouwer sitting in front of a tape recorder with his Guitar in his lap while quietly gazing over the whispering night sky of Brooklyn. Gradually, however, his pieces grow more saturnine, mood taking over from melody and sweet, discreet field recordings (as on the pastoral fantasy „For the Birds“ or the ensuing rhythmical palpatation „Thaifood“) contrasting with foreboding Guitar motives which move forward without ever coming to a final conclusion. Stylistic references abound, but Goodman neither seems interested in references nor in pastiches. He appears to be choosing improvisation, in fact, to rid himself of cliche, of sublimating his experience into something that is beyond his own imagination.

If a comparison is warranted at all, then it is because of the unpolished and physical nature of these pieces, which sometimes end abruptly, like aural pencil scetches: Just like a collection of music recovered from the vaults, „Under the Lamp“ sometimes reminds one of a Shellac copy of Leadbelly originals, the sexual innuendo and the unfulfillable longing of the Blues coming together in explicit and unmasked rawness. It is an album that tastes of empty rooms at night and smells sweetly of tobacco and makes you want to pick up smoking again years after you thought you'd finally kicked the habbit for good. At home, a bottle of Bourbon is waiting. The man quickens his step.

Then he changes his mind and turns left, walking into the abandoned shopping streets of town. On a couple of occasions, „Lamp“ made him think of „St Java Street Bagatelles“ by James Beaudreau and now he remembers that he carries Beaudreau's second album „Fresh Twigs“ with him on his MP3 player. It seems just the right moment to continue this wondrous journey. Only a mere minute into first piece „Opening Bell“, however, it has become apparent that the New York-based composer has taken a remarkable stylistic turn. Underneath the surface, he still seems to be using pretty much the same compositional techniques but in terms of arrangement, his latest full-length places them in a completely new light. His sponataneous love-affair with the moment has made way for minutely planned and yet completely unpredictable miniature concertos modularly made up of several contrasting episodes. If his previous record was an on-the-fly lofi Guitar wonderland, then „Fresh Twigs“ is a progressive spaced-out electroacoustic kaleidoscope.

Even though pure Guitar tracks are still part of the program, such as on the aquamarine flamenco figment „Pacifico“, Beaudreau is now using overdubs, Bass and even Drums on many occasions to enrich his arrangements and add a plethora of colours and subtle shadings. The most remarkable aspect of his style until now, as already displayed on „Java St. Bagatelles“, was a sort of sympathetic sonic schizophrenia, which made some of his pieces sound like two or three compositions being played at the same time. This idea is still present on his most recent work, with especially „Gold Coast“, ornamented by a layer of crisp crackle, giving the impression of a „Bagatelles“-session outtake.

On the majority of the material on „Fresh Twigs“, however, this concept is now being taken to a higher dimension. At times, the music will be made up of various sections, carefully juxtaposed to create surprising, but never far-fetched connections. Then again, Beaudreau has recorded the very same work in different ways several times and later glued these takes together into a coherent entity. The result is a sort of musical cubism, whose impact is as confounding as it is momentuous and which makes even repeat listens as exciting as the first ones.

Groovy, soulful moments dominate first track „Opening Bell“ and the show ends emphatically with the cosmic Fuzz-Rock of the title track. In between, „Fresh Twigs“  excels in displaying a handwriting which is utterly special because the notes Beaudreau plays and the way that he plays them reveal him not only to be an inventive musician but a sensitive listener as well, capable of stepping back from an immediate, personal outing and shedding unpredictable new light on his own music. It's an album which makes you want to pick up „Java St. Bagetelles“ straight away and belatedly rethink your 'Best of' lists for 2008.

The reviewer has arrived at the door of his house. He turns the key to let himself in, then changes his mind. Just one more stroll through the neighbourhood, he tells himself and presses play again.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: E. Ryan Goodman
Homepage: James Beaudreau

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