Having semi-retired from the music business in 2008 in favour of conducting Humanist (non-religious) funerals, Billy Jenkins
returned to recording in 2014, releasing the highly acclaimed solo album Semi-Detached Suburban Home (Music For Low Strung Guitar)
. So its follow-up Death, Ritual & Resonation: Eight improvised studies on low strung guitar
follows similar lines and compared to the considerably longer previous album is a mere extended play, weighing in at just under twenty minutes. However, as someone probably once said, quantity isn't always the best measurement of quality. Certainly this is the case here and arguably, its relative brevity compared with its predecessor actually enhances its excellence. The eight pieces on this download-only release are short, averaging not much more than two minutes each but are packed with concentrated introspection.
The eight titles mirror the path of a typical Humanist funeral but also are designed in eight individual chakras each with their own musical pitch. Once again, Jenkins has chosen to deliver these pieces with a low strung guitar tuned two tones lower than normal tuning. The result is acoustic guitar which occasionally sounds like a clanging resonator guitar but which affords a rich timbre and some degree of a drone effect too. The lower pitch also makes the guitar occasionally sound out of tune with, as Jenkins refers to it, a deliberate "slack string discombobulation." The advantage of this slack stringing is that the notes can be bent to wild extremes.
Bell-like single guitar notes peal out the introduction to "Six Pallbearers Big and Strong" effectively mimicking the chimes of a tolling funeral bell indicating the start of the final journey. "Shocked, Stunned & Disbelief" is more fragmented, mirroring the title of the piece, whereas "Thoughts on Life & Loss" is, as the title suggests, more reflective and meandering.
"We Grieve For Ourselves," the longest track at just over three minutes, begins appropriately in a minor key (Gm) and transcends into a more ruminative, almost classical mode, notes relentlessly bending.
The bluesy folk guitar of "Comfort & Pride" vaguely recalls fallen acoustic guitar heroes such as Davy Graham or Bert Jansch whereas and by contrast, "Rejoice That They Lived" sees a return to Jenkins' frenetic guitar style as heard in the erstwhile Voice of God Collective or the Blues Collective. Similarly, "The Affirmation Of Life" is adorned with lightning-fast blues runs. The session concludes with "Walk On In Eternal Gratitude," a no-nonsense blues with steady 4/4 beat and toe-tapping imperative.
Listening to the numbers over and over again, there is sensitivity and improvisational skill but most of all there is the blues, which seems to permeate the guitarist's whole being. The sombre subject matter inspiring this download is mitigated by the knowledge that in a previous life, Jenkins' humour and genius had created such immortal compositions as "Jazz had a baby, and they called it avant-garde" (from his S.A.D.
album). This latest collection is not funny (nor is it meant to be), but it is hypnotically addictive, demanding frequently repeated plays, its kaleidoscopic nature revealing ever-changing tonal colours and moods. A compact slice of musical brilliance.