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Garrison Fewell/ Eric Hofbauer: The Lady of Khartoum

John Sharpe By

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I wouldn't normally go for an album of guitar improvisation, but from the first notes the abstracted beauty of this duet session from Boston-area guitarists Garrison Fewell and Eric Hofbauer both dazzles and beguiles, sufficient to eliminate any prejudice.

Hofbauer is part of the Blueprint Project, whose 2007 recording People I Like made several best of year lists, and is also the founder of Creative Nation Music Records, while Fewell has gigged and recorded with John Tchicai, George Cables, Kahn Jamal, and Charlie Kohlhase among many others, as well as being a Professor of Guitar and Ear Training at Berklee College of Music in a tenure stretching back some thirty years.

While the majority of the fifteen short pieces are improvised, with only two over six minutes, and eight shorter than three minutes, there's still room in this well-paced program for Thelonious Monk's "Let's Cool One" and three original compositions, with one from Hofbauer, one from John Tchicai and one written by Tchicai and Fewell together.

Both guitarists trade in a wide spectrum of unconventional sonorities. Ed Hazell's informative liner notes reveal instruments prepared with clips, bells, jewelry, and even a playing card threaded between the strings, among a welter of otherwise unrecognizable technical and referential details.

Without the preparations, Hofbauer's harder tone, in the right channel, pitches against Fewell's full-bodied warmth, in the left. Interweaving lines compete in a cavalcade of jangling plunks, buzzing runs, and chiming chords, which nonetheless evoke precursors of the guitar and suggest the roots of jazz in the cultures of Africa and the Middle East.

A diaspora of titles alludes to the wide ranging influences brought to bear through this delightful but uncompromising set. "Dogon Delta Blues" constructs an off kilter jauntiness from a confection of odd tunings and treatments, while "A Cajun Raven" is a wickedly deconstructed "Bye Bye Blackbird." "A Bourbour's Spell" passes in a whirl of swirling legato slide guitar.

The ringing melancholy of "Prologue: Before the Dream" sets the scene for the title track's percussive voicings, with Fewell at one point simultaneously strumming and extracting a drone of harmonics from two guitars, shadowing Hofbauer's unfolding extemporized melody, in one of the early highlights. Roles are reversed on "Let's Cool One," where Fewell brightly essays the theme against Hofbauer's counterpoint and variations.

Tchicai's "Farsighted Friendship," a near cousin of "Auld Lang Syne," like much of the album, has a feeling of something known, refracted through a distorting prism. It forms a warm and gentle conclusion to this richly rewarding disc, resonant of other cultures and other times, yet firmly of its own.

Hofbauer calls the disc a musical prayer for peace, and to back up the rhetoric, ten per cent of the sales go to a relief fund for refugees of the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan.


Track Listing: Prologue: Before the Dream; The Lady of Khartoum; Dogon Delta Blues; Comfort for an Affliction; Devil at the Salang Pass, Ma

Personnel: Garrison Fewell: guitar, slide, sticks, bells, percussion; Eric Hofbauer: guitar, metal box, sticks percussion.

Title: The Lady of Khartoum | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Creative Nation Music

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