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Minimalist Guitar: Clouds and Dreams

Geno Thackara By

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Jakob Bro
Returnings
ECM Records
2018

Jakob Bro sounds quiet (even by his standards) on his third date for ECM, following up the aptly-titled Streams (ECM, 2016) with a recording even more spare and contemplative. His telepathy with favorite collaborator Thomas Morgan stays close as ever, while Palle Mikkelborg provides a fellow lead voice just as patient and understated as the leader's. His minimalist trumpet converses and trades lines with Bro's guitar almost in the style of deliberate chess moves, both of them thoughtfully choosing short phrases with great care and often leaving empty breathing space between.

In keeping with their past habits, co-composers Bro and Mikkelborg sketch out their pieces with the lightest of touches and stand back to let things happen—or not happen—with guidance as minimal as possible. Morgan gets a tasteful bass interlude in the middle while Jon Christensen contributes judicious drum rolls or light crashes in infrequent places throughout. The rhythm players are suitably unobtrusive while the overall affair is mainly about textures; Bro's strums hover half out of hearing, while Mikkelborg's horn switches between the ringing echoes of electric Miles or the patient drones of Asian ragas. Returnings unwinds at a pace as leisurely as a daydream, soaking in the slow journey enough that any destination almost seems like an afterthought.

Jon Durant
Parting Is
Alchemy Records
2018

Taking something of a break after three superb world-dub-and-more albums by Burnt Belief (a duo with electric bassist Colin Edwin), Jon Durant takes his "cloud guitar" almost completely solo to near-minimalist results. The theme on his mind is that of departures and time spent away from loved ones, and like Bro, he prefers to patiently let the tracks grow and direct him rather than vice versa. A simple pattern here becomes a loop there, then provides a bed for a solo, then changes to a new one or fades into the air.

Several tracks first emerge as abstract ambience with no immediate need to even sound like a guitar. Durant adds fretless guitar and a little fretless bass as well, though all the tones are just a means to an end—it's always done with the mood in mind first and foremost. The simple soundscape illustrates vivid intimate emotion as effectively as vast solitude; the notes are few, but practically poetic in saying everything they need to.

Intonazioni Serafiche
Rimembranze d'un estatico oblio
Laverna Netlabel
2018

Intonazioni Serafiche (meaning "Song of angels" at best guess) is the project moniker for Italian guitarist Riccardo Cirani, and it's certainly not hard to imagine celestial beings singing with voices similar to what's heard here. There are obvious echoes of Cirani's Guitar Craft tutor Robert Fripp, particularly the method of layering loops and the hazy tone of his Soundscape recordings, though this one has a character distinct enough to stand well apart from those reference points. It boasts more notes per minute than most anything you'd consider ambient, for one thing, yet still fits the term cozily enough to sing the listener to sleep.

Where so many recordings use synth or synth-guitar loops to create placid moods, this one offers a kind of trance-like peace in the frenetic. His circular patterns gradually fill in the quiet spaces as they build, so that there's an almost rhythm-like pulse throughout. Cirani solos over it and sometimes even soars when the mood hits. Still, the steadiness and atmospheric sheen of the notes ensure that it all comes out calming. With easy washes underlying it all, even the semi-frenzied passages are breezy and the compressed sound mix doesn't get harsh. When the last of the extended improvisations drops to a more sedate mid-tempo pace, it makes a gentle touchdown after a smooth untroubled flight, and it's hard not to still feel that one hasn't quite left the clouds at all.

Tracks and Personnel

Returnings

Tracks: Oktober; Strands; Song for Nicolai; View; Lyskaster; Hamsun; Returnings; Youth.

Personnel: Jakob Bro: guitar; Palle Mikkelborg: trumpet, flugelhorn; Thomas Morgan: double bass; Jon Christensen: drums.

Parting Is

Tracks: Clouds in Advance; Open Window; Travels Within; The Room Where She Waits; Before the Rain Falls; Evolve in Place; Ecliptic Shadows; Returning to the Departure; Willamette Fog.

Personnel: Jon Durant: guitars, bass.

Rimembranze D'un Estatico Oblio

Tracks: Primo Vere; Kenosis; The Unread Vision; Il Sogno di Orfeo.

Personnel: Riccardo Cirani: guitar, effects.

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