Inspiration comes in many guises. In the case of guitarist/producer Chris Schlarb, a rainstorm triggered a synapse in his brain, unlocking a creative process leading to Twilight and Ghost Stories. That is the simplified version of events. Schlarb's first solo album is, ironically, the fruit of contributions from fifty artists. Each forwarded segments of music or field recordings of varying lengths, which Schlarb shaped painstakingly over a period of four years. The result is a fascinating collage of sounds.
Piano, tuba, vibraphone, guitar, bass and clarinet merge with djembe, claribone, bells, broken mandolin, and radiators and sliding chairs recorded in a house built by architect Albert Speers in Iceland.
It begins with rain, the sound of intermittent passing cars swishing by like small waves breaking on a nighttime shore., while clusters of echoing piano notes drop sympathetically as though from the sky. An acoustic guitar, soft bells, a gently rumbling bass and isolated drum rolls build and then recede quietly.
This symphony of sounds builds and ebbs in movements, of which there are nine or ten discernible parts, linked by the ever-present rain. A faint Parisian accordion waltzes briefly and gaily before vanishing; clapping and singing voices likewise. A dissonant tuba and bowed bass threaten to disturb the peace but soon expire.
Then, a steadily intensifying washing cymbal rises like an apparition, introducing and buoying an ethereal piano segment in one of the album's most sublime moments. And all the while, the rain.
In a moment of stillness, saxophone awakens and piano stirs, a beautiful, soulful voice reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald unfurls, backed by sweet acoustic guitar. Here, a guitar sounds like a little musical box; there, a hummable melody is underpinned by electronic drone. Pedal steel guitar and acoustic guitar, with the rain all to themselves, provide another moment of beauty in an exchange evocative of guitarist Jimmy Page.
Most of the interventions are brief, yet run into each other so smoothly that there is a tremendous sense of continuity and logic. Vibraphone give way to piano and laughing children, which sounds like a distant childhood memory. A bassoon bellows like a ghost ship in the fog. And all the while, the rain.
At the end, a narrated tale, dark and slightly surreal, which wouldn't be out of place in a Charles Bukowski short story. This leads into a lively drum and dreamy guitar sequence, typical of Schlarb's collaboration with drummer Tom Steck on the wonderful I, Heart Lung album Between Them a Forest grew, Trackless and Quiet. (Soundsareactive, 2007) A soothing, vocal harmonization and Robert Fripp-like guitar close things out, accompanied of course, by the sound of the rain.
No doubt a lot of sweat and a few tears went into the creating of this work; four years is a long time to spend piecing together a sonic jigsaw which has no guiding picture other than that evolving in the fertile imagination of Chris Schlarb. It has been worth it though, for this is improvised music as art at its very best.
Twighlight and Ghost Stories.
Tom Abbs: upright bass, tuba, drums; Accident: music box, electronics; Glenn Bach: field recordings; Brother Mitya: acoustic guitar, voice; Bill Brown: vibraphone; Justice Constantine: drums; Abdoulye Diallo: acoustic guitar, electronics; Drekka: acoustic guitar, electronics; Dave Easley: pedal steel guitar; Sandy Ewen, electric guitar; Nathaniel Frank: drums; Adam Garcia: drums; Orlando Greenhill: upright bass, voice; Liz Janes: voice; Lynn Johnston: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Michael Kaufmann: violin, claribone, broken mandolin, voice; Walter Kitundu: radiators and sliding chairs; Sebastian Kreuger: piano, acoustic guitar, bass, voice; Languis: synthesizer, electronics; Dave Longstreth: voice; Adriana Lucero-Schlarb: voice, electronics; John O