In a long and distinguished career, Christy Doran has fronted or been a founding member of a number of important jazz-fusion / jazz-rock groups, from the seminal Swiss band OM in the early 1970s, to current outfits New Bag and Sound Fountain. His collaborations with some of the most important jazz artists on both sides of the Atlantic, spanning some forty years, are too numerous to mention. A lesser-known facet of the Ireland-born, Lucerne-based guitarist has been his composing for ballet, film and theatre, including the adaption of texts by Samuel Beckett to music. Arguably nothing he has done previously, however, matches the ambition of these seven compositions for twenty electric guitars, four electric basses, and drums.
Orchestral in scope, the music covers a lot of ground, from susurrus soundscapes and sophisticated, layered lines, to coruscating power-chords and angular funk. Yet despite the number of electric instruments involved there's a notable finesse about much of the music. Doran's juggling of the multiple voices as they drop in and out, and his framing of highly individual voices at that, makes for a compelling listening experience. And, although suite-like in their continuity, the seven pieces are very distinctive in character.
The spectral atmosphere of "Cannon Street Canon," with its intricate weave of gently voiced motifs, single note pulses and lightly ticking cymbals is lullaby-esque in its delicacy; bassist Franco Fontanarrossa's bewitching solo seduces without disturbing the balm-like atmosphere. The presence of drums and bass throughout the album lends the music an organic, group feel, as opposed to some neo-classical, large-ensemble experiment. This is particularly true of the rhythmically propulsive "Andromeda," an ostinato-rich episode reminiscent of Robert Fripp and Andy Summers' masterly I Advanced Masked (A&M, 1982), with fine solos from bassist Wolfgang Zwiauer and guitarist Walter Beltram.
The tightly orchestrated, scurrying lines of the psychedelic-edged "Gunslingers" frame strikingly diverse guitar solos from Chris Guilfoyle , Yves Reichmuth and Phillipe Schappi, improvisations that encompass pedal-filtered synthetics, spluttering rock fireworks and cleanly articulated jazz vocabulary.
The title track juxtaposes the finely layered and the visceral. Back-and-forth, knotty lines, punctuated by a series of power chords, precede a rhythmically punchier groove, powered by Lukas Mantel's fiercely controlled drumming. Here, Doran embraces freer terrain, with searing back-to-back solos from Gael Zwahlen and Laurent Meteau. The bluesy intro "Bad News Babe" is no indication of the epic fun and games that follow; a delightfully slow, "Kashmir"-esque riff, complex ensemble lines of undulating tempi, and textures both dense and fine, co-exist in a heady orchestration that features bravura soloing from Christian Winkler, Lucia D'Errico, Dave Gisler and Simon Rupp.
After the intensity of "Bad News Babe," the vignette "Goin' in on the Way Out" offers lyrical repose, at least, that is, until the fast-ascending unison lines that make for a curious ending. "Bows and Wahs" begins like a rusty old train lumbering out of a stockyard. An extended passage of abstract, psychedelic ruminations gradually takes more concrete form as bass and drums align. Short, punchy unison motifs like a boxer's combinations form the backdrop to highly individualistic solos by Martina Berther, Phillip Schaufelberger and Franz Hellmuller. The abrupt ending is unexpected, and the crashing silence that follows an hour of sonic adventure has shock impact.
Sweeping in its ambition, Doran's 144 Strings for a Broken Chord successfully balances grand collective statements with virtuosic individual threads. The boldest gestures are no more important than the micro details at play, which combined, effect a vibrant sonic collage where subtle lyricism, powerful motifs and gnashing improvisations happily coexist. Engaging from start to finish.
Cannon Street Canon; Andromeda; Gunslingers; Broken Chords; Bad News Babe; Goin’ In On The Way Out; Bows and Wahs.
Walter Beltram, Manuel Buchel, Glauco Cataldo, Christy Doran, Lucia D’Errico, Dave Gisler, Christopher Guilfoyle, Franz Hellmuller, Laurent Meteau, Urs Muller, Yves Reichmuth, Florian Respondek, Simon Rupp, Phillipe Emanuel Schappi, Philipp Schaufelberger, Nicolas Stettler, Urs Vogeli, Christian Winiker, Christian Zemp, Gael Zwahlen: guitars; Martina Berther, Franco Fontanarrosa, Andi Schnellmann, Wolfgang Zwiauer: electric bass; Lukas Mantel: drums; John Voirol: conductor.