There’s an old saying about glass houses and stones that seems apropos of a critical finger pointed toward the growing musical folio of John Corbett. As a music critic who can play nary a lick who am I to launch arrows from a quiver of complaint at what seems like a body of work based predominately in self-indulgence? Still, there’s the flipside that states any musician who pitches his wares in the public eye is fair game for evaluation by both educated and novice ears. The very fact that Corbett continues to release his music commercially seems to suggest that he’s steeled himself for the barrage of brickbats that is likely to assail his efforts. On this latest entry he joins forces with respected, if somewhat obscure improvisor Davey Williams and once again supplicates himself at the feet of his peers and listeners at large with another generous slice of idiosyncratic navel-gazing sound collage.
As in the past humor plays an integral role in the finished product. From track titles to the revisionist sleeve notes penned by Williams and beautifully illustrated by Hal Rammel that cast an instinctual nod toward earlier iconoclastic liner scribes like John Fahey, the project seems to be more about the those behind the microphones than the luckless few in front of the speakers. An inventory of Corbett’s instrumental palette and the way it plays out on record points to musicality far removed from traditional conservatory study. His ‘techniques’ instead appear the product of ‘tinkering around’ with the prime directive being the creation of sound for sound’s sake. An early example surfaces on “Something Tall and Cool” where his craggy acoustic strumming caulks the corners around Williams’ squiggly string shapes. “When We Jammed with El Rushbo” is a teetering sculpture of badly tuned radio and fragmentary guitar scrapes that plods on for about six minutes too long. “Magic Wind” mixes rocket science riffing with buzzing and twittering radio synth static into a blend that is initially intriguing in its ambient properties, but quickly diminishes under threadbare reiteration.
Perhaps these pieces would play out better in a live setting where visual elements and theatrics could expand on the base level of irreverent sound making. As they stand in the stilted medium of the purely audio, they make for an experience that quickly grows tiresome for anyone not attuned to the madcap randomness that seems to be the duo’s stock and trade. Corbett’s contributions to creative improvised music are swiftly approaching the immeasurable. His place in the history books is secure. But even with these well-deserved accolades, it’s difficult not to speculate and lament the identity of the Atavistic project that earned more shelf time in order for this disc to receive a release date.
Atavistic on the web: http://www.atavistic.com
Track Listing: Playing Along/ Something Tall and Cool (for Stefan Harde)/ When We Jammed with El Rushbo/ What a Waste of Succotash/ Magic Wind (for HPB)/ The Untitled Ballad of the Ballad that Wouldn
Personnel: Davey Williams- electric guitar; John Corbett- acoustic guitar, turntable, synthesizer, radio, keymonica. Recorded: October 31, 2000, Chicago, IL.