In a recording career that began in 1995, prepared guitarist Paolo Agneli's has toggled between solo albums and collaborations with the likes of Fred Frith
, Hamid Drake
, Evan Parker
, Takumi Fukushima and Iva Bittova
. But whether in partnership or solo, the Sardinian's music stubbornly resists categorization. Elements of free-jazz, post-rock, folk, noise and electronic soundscaping are all in the mix, while Agneli's prepared guitar has more bells and whistles than your average one-man band. Suffice it to say, Jar'a
, a six-part suite for prepared guitar, will cause a headache for label merchants. For the open-minded, its rich sonic collage is quite the ride.
Electronic drone, sawing rhythmic churn and folksy melodies on acoustic guitar announce "Ea," a brief aperitif before the suite's centerpiecethe sprawling eighteen-minute title track.
Sustained arco drone opens "Jar'a" with a warm, brass-like quality. Scintillating, pointillistic acoustic guitar notes and the darker tones of bowed, legato melodies overlap before sidling up to each other in counterpoint, as though in call and response. A tapped percussive rhythm runs throughout, its insistence in contrast to a spare bass pulse. Intermittently a mechanical arm mounted on the guitar's body triggers high pitched, bell-like trilling from the strings.
At the flick of a switch Agneli draws electrified sustain from his stringsa variation on the drone that seems to function as his canvas. Electric and acoustic guitar dreamily chase each other's tails while electronic effectswhooshing waves ascending like some behemoth in lift-off add otherworldly drama. After eighteen absorbing minutes the music subsides, leaving only the sound of sploshing water, characterized by a repeating rhythmic cycle, as though designed by dancing feet in a river's shallows.
Another short segment, "Futti 'entu," bewitches with its churning rhythmic energy, multiple guitar parts of chiming intensity and splashes of kora-like melodicism. Though some of the core elements common to all these tracks also color "Sùlu," it is chiefly the vocal combination of Angeli's keening incantationinspired by Sardinian traditional musicand Omar Bandinu's bassu cantu a tenore,
a deep bass Sardinian throat singing, that set the mood. Against a backdrop of heavy electric drone, the emotive vocals, almost devotional in nature, could be a lament for lost souls as easily as a prayer for the living.
Angeli's bowed strings carve a lyrical vein through "Lanci. The static chop and hum here perhaps owes a little to Radiohead's universe , a tangible influence that previously inspired Angeli's 22.22 Free Radiohead
(ReR Megacorp, 2019). "Groppo" concludes the suite with brief cameos from electric guitar and Bandinu's bowels-of-the-earth bass vocal, with the final say left to the whistling winds and the roaring sea.
Despite the multiplicity of simultaneous sonic atmospheres conjured by Angeli, there are no overdubs or loops on Jar'a.
The magic lies in the extraordinary architecture of his guitar, which incorporates foot pedals that trigger pianoforte-like hammers on the strings, motors that spur tiny bands against sympathetic strings causing high-pitched trills and an array of knobs that take the strings from their classical roots to rock distortion and back.
It takes an equally extraordinary musician, however, to pull it all together, as Angeli does handsomely on this evocative and immersive ode to the landscapes, soundscapes and spirit of his native Sardinia.
i Ea; ii Jar’a; iii Futti ‘entu; iv Sùlu; v Lanci; vi Groppo.
Special Guest: Omar Bandinu: bassu (canto a tenore Sardinian throat singing).