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Steve Tibbetts: Natural Causes

Ian Patterson By

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Although guitarist/composer Steve Tibbetts and Marc Anderson have collaborated since the late 1970s—the percussionist has played on every one of Tibbetts ECM releases—this is their first duo recording since Northern Song (ECM, 1982). That album employed silence as a sideman, and although there is less outright pause on Natural Causes, the same soothing, meditative ambiance forms a natural bridge between the two works, separated by almost thirty years. Tibbetts layers and interweaves 12-string guitar, bouzouki and kalimba, with a bewitching subtlety matched by Anderson's deft percussive imprint, on compositions which Tibbetts describes as "complex little cathedrals."It's an apt description for music whose simplicity, on face value, is founded on elaborate, orchestral construction, and which creates a feeling of great space, peace and inner contemplation.

There is a certain indefinable quality on Natural Causes common to sacred music; the quasi-spiritual reverie conjured by Tibbetts' ruminations on guitar is enhanced by Anderson's gentle gongs and temple cymbals, a feature of Tibbetts' music since his days in Indonesia. The bent notes that Tibbetts wrings from his 12-string are a nod to the inspiration of sarangi master Sultan Kahn, though whether drawing from Balinese culture or Hindustani classical tradition Tibbetts' sonic landscape is utterly personal.

The twelve sections range from just under a minute to six in length, and are individually titled, though in effect they merge as one continuous piece which reveals itself like a tapestry slowly unrolled. The aptly named Kalimba—it means "little music" in Bantu—colors the miniature "Sitavana," and its harp-like texture segues into the more episodic "Padre 'Yaga," where Tibbetts' bent notes and small pockets of silence create a meditative stillness of a near-Chinese/Indian hybrid nature. Minimalist piano, gongs and cymbals accompany Tibbetts' guitar on "Attahasa," one of the rare occasions when the pulse of the music quickens, and steel drums bring a lovely, impressionistic delicacy to the tail end of the piece.

Even subtle changes in rhythm, on music this serene, make for quite pronounced shifts in mood and texture, with Anderson's gently loping percussion and ritualistic cymbal splashes providing contrast to Tibbetts' more extroverted playing on the seductive "Chandogra." Likewise, changes in instrumentation, in such an intimate setting, are subtly striking, particularly the stripping away of most of the layered strings on the elegant "Lakshmivana." Here, Tibbetts' 12-string is the protagonist, with gentle dobs of tambour, gong, steel drum and piano adding ethereal colors. Piano and guitar circle each other in the slow waltz of "Sangchen Rolpa," with the percussion silent.

After more than three decades playing together, the inner rhythms of these two musicians are perfectly in sync; Tibbetts' simple yet intricately interwoven melodic lines are beautifully punctuated and buoyed by Anderson's sympathetic percussion. Together, they create little sonic cathedrals which invite entry and reward patience with an edifying feeling of inner peace.

Track Listing: Sitavana; Padre-yaga; Attahasa; Chandogra; Sangchen Rolpa; Lakshmivana; Manikarnike; Ishvaravana; Gulezian; Kili-ki Drok; Kuladzokpa; Lament; Threnody.

Personnel: Steve Tibbetts: guitars, piano, kalimba, bouzouki; Marc Anderson: percussion, steel drum; gongs.

Title: Natural Causes | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: ECM Records

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