It was an ambitious move from Bhutan to Asheville, North Carolina, that helped shape Tashi Dorji's musical direction. The guitarist had previously been steeped in classic rock and hair metal, but as a foreign exchange student he soon absorbed punk and free jazz. Two saxophonists in particular, John Zorn and Albert Ayler, inspired Dorji to his self-proclaimed "cathartic achievement of beautiful noise, rhythm and melody." His subsequent guitar albums wore this inspiration openly, earning Dorji's playing a reputation for scratchy exuberance to rival that of Derek Bailey, another obvious muse. He later began working with Danish saxophonist Mette Rasmussen, the Chicago reedman Dave Rempis and drummer Tyler Damon. Then in 2020 came an offer from renowned U.S. indie label Drag City to do a record for them. That was all the discussion the two parties had. No parameters were set. Dorji opted to make an acoustic album, whose title Stateless is an explicit nod to immigrants everywhere.
Dorji plays with a raw abandon and a disdain for rigidity throughout. Clearly these pieces are largely improvised, yet such is their technical scope it seems hardly credible that Dorji had nothing pre-composed. Some of his strange tunings sound almost detuned on occasion, adding to the general unease and cacophony. Take the dissonant opener "Refusal, Part I" and its tone of frayed strings played with real fierceness. One almost feels the soreness of Dorji's fingerpads afterwards. Mellowing a touch, "Refusal, Part II" finds something close to rustic harmony in places amid the general torrent. Next up, "Statues Crumble, Heroes Fall" is dense and cryptic, with a series of speed pickings like snare drum rolls.
If it often sounds like Dorji is playing two instruments, then maybe it helps to regard his motifs as Bartok-like tone clusters, rather than chords. Consider the brash strumming and raspy flamenco of "Now, Part I" where the notes stack up in a chaotic slam. Yet even when this work feels extremist, there's a Zen-like sense of control ever present. The mystic pluckings on "End Of State, Part III" have the lilt of a Vedic chant, while "Now, Part II" is plinked with an Eastern slant as if Dorji were using a koto or komungo. And for all the erratic timings on show, certain tracks also stand firm with classical twanging, metallic flutters and late-summer ripplings to the fore. Dorji can use his instrument as something straight and lyrical too. Moreover, he reminds us what a physical activity playing the guitar may be. Just listen to "End Of State, Part I" with its intense focus and rhythmic frills.
In lesser hands, such a bold approach to improv could sound confused and leaden. Dorji's offering, however, stays both logical and compelling. There is nothing frugal or hair-shirted about the nobly avant Stateless. In its quest for musical meaning, Dorji's vigorous style has opened up boundless options.
Refusal, Part I; Refusal, Part II; Statues Crumble, Heroes Fall; End of State, Part I; End of State, Part II;
End of State, Part III; What You Will Loose, As All Are Lost; The Swelling Fruit About to Shatter the Husk
of The Old World; Now, Part I; Now, Part II.
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