Having spent four years cutting and pasting fifty trusted musicians on his stunning debut solo recording, Twilight & Ghost Stories
(Asthmatic Kitty Records, 2007) guitarist/composer Chris Schlarb may understandably have felt like scaling back. Instead, Schlarb invested similar time and resources to sculpt the beautifully meditative folk-jazz ambient suite Psychic Temple
(Sounds Are Active/Asthmatic Kitty Records, 2011) and the outsized pool of backing musicians was on hand again for Psychic Temple II
(Asthmatic Kitty Records, 2013) with its Frank Zappa
and Joe Jackson covers nestling among more familiar Schlarb soundscapes. Finally, a decade later, Schlarb reins in his orchestral ambitions with a one-man solo album.
Perhaps as a reaction to the painstakingly constructed mosaics of his previous solo albums, Schlarb has gone all hermit-like, taking a couple of guitars and some electronics and ensconcing himself in a log cabin in Big Bear, California. Given the four years required to get Twilight & Ghost Stories
in the can and the thousand recording hours that went into Psychic Temple
, three days recording Making the Saint
seems veritably slap-dash by comparison. The results, however, are quietly sublime. Sparse in construction and achingly lyrical, the forty-odd minutes of music are among the most meditative that Schlarb has yet produced.
The title track, which takes up half the CD, pitches Schlarb's ruminative electric guitar over a constant, slightly wavy drone. Shimmering chords, repeated motifs and gently unfolding melodic improvisations interconnect like sonic sketches. The simple yet powerful aesthetic is akin to some of the reflective, drone-based material on Between Them a Forest Grew, Trackless and Quiet
(Sounds Are Active, 2007) and Interoceans
(Asthmatic Kitty Records, 2008), Schlarb's compelling collaborations with drummer Tom Steck
in the duo I Heart Lung. Subtly anthemic and almost hymnal at times, this nineteen-minute epic is the CD's outstanding track.
On the confessional-sounding vocal track "The Great Receiver" Schlarb layers softly pulsing acoustic strands and faint vocal harmonies. His brief interjection on electric guitar is a delight. The CD's second extended track, "The Fear of Death is the Birth of God" is based around a repetitive electric guitar motif and spacious chords. Guitar and electronics fuse harmonically either side of sustained melodic lines. As the piece unravels, electronic Morse and, sparkling guitar notes join the meditative chorus. In the end, the layers recede leaving just the electronic pulse. An exquisite rendition of the jazz standard "My Foolish Heart"just Schlarb on acoustic guitarconcludes the album on an intimate note. A whole album of similar acoustic reverie wouldn't go amiss. Making The Saint
is a fine addition to an impressive and distinctive discography. Though shorn of the dozens of overlapping voices that have hitherto shaped his solo work, this is still a quintessential Schlarb recordingmeditative, lyrical and seductive. If a log cabin in the San Bernardino mountains produces such results then Schlarb should do this sort of retreat more often.
Making The Saint; The Great Receiver; The Fear of Death is the Birth of God; My Foolish Heart.
Chris Schlarb: acoustic and electric guitars, electronics, voice.