Feigin / Hultgren / Smith

They Are We Are

Leo Lab / CD071

Misha Feigin (guitar), Craig Hultgren (cello), LaDonna Smith (violin)






Tammen / Duval

The Road Bends Here

Leo Lab / CD072

Hans Tammen (guitar), Dominic Duval (bass)






Eugene Chadbourne

Piramida Cu Povesti

Leo / CDLR304

Eugene Chadbourne (guitar)

Three albums here of all-strings improvised music, all three of very different flavours and featuring very different guitarists (and all three, as it happens, on the prolific Leo label).

Feigin’s playing is strongly rooted in conventional techniques, and has rather a strong link with American folk music; he may play classical guitar and balalaika here, but they’re often made to sound like a big, steel-stringed acoustic. He enjoys setting up rhythmic, harmonically vague riffs — perhaps a memory of early influences like Led Zep, as described in his wonderful sleeve notes — while the violin and cello work in more spikey, “New Music” territory.

Actually, Smith has a degree of folk in his paying, too, and if the overwhelming effect is of shibboleths like Penderecki, the subtle undercurrents are more melodic; not so much reminiscent of the jangling dance tunes which shimmer underneath Feigin’s guitar, but the long, slow ballads of the mountains and the Wild West. Whether Smith was actually inflluenced by this sort of thing is by the by: the music here certainly seems to partake of it, albeit under the surface, as it often did on Feigin’s previous Leo release, one track of which also featured Smith’s fiddle.

As is so often the case, however, it’s hard to tell the two string players apart here except by extremes of pitch, and since both use non-standard sounds very often the problem is compounded, if problem it is; in fact, it’s more of a problem for a reviewer than a listener, who is enveloped in their sound very nicely. A final point: Feigin sings a kind of improv scat, too, and it isn’t horrible, which is most unusual.

None of those folk impressions for Hans Tammen, one of the most ferociously talented and inventive guitarists to emerge in the last ten years. His technique is noisy and percussive, is energy relentless and unstoppable. Since his recent releases have focussed on electric guitar, where his ability to wring hitherto unimagined sounds from the instrument is truly dazzling, it’s nice to hear him here exclusively on acoustic.

His duo partner Duval’s most high-profile gig to date has, arguably, been with Cecil Taylor, and there is certainly a strong connection between the pianist and Tammen. Both play with a headllong energy which seems impossible to sustain, which seems bound to be exhausted after only a moment, but which somehow spirals on until you forget it’s a whirling, high-speed rush and find yourself at the eye of the storm. There is no doubt that Tammen’s music is powerfully energetic, but it seems also to breathe in very lonng phrases, much as Taylors does.

To keep up with this sort of thing requires considerable skill. There’s little point trying to match it note-for-note; only cacophony is likely to ensue. Fortunately, Duval has a wealth of tricks up his sleeve, and he has the strength to lead as well as follow, making for a duo performance of exhilarating dynamism, and a set of eleven tracks each of which has a clear and distinctive identity. Don’t miss this one, especially if Tammen’s work is new to you.

The work of Eugene Chadbourne, on the other hand, will be known to many, and it’s likely that the ongoing series of releases on Leo will in the future be considered an important period of his output. They are all quite different, but all have similar concerns lurking behind them.

There’s no question that Chadbourne is an estimable technician, with a vocabulary spanning rock, jazz and a dazzling variety of folk musics. Here we’re treated to unretouched, unadulterated improvisations on the resonator guitar, an instrument forever associated with the country blues.

As you might expect, it’s a relaxed affair, with nobody in a hurry and nobody getting into a lather about production values; in common with most of his other recent projects, it sounds like a bedroom 4-track recording and it quite possibly is. In such intimate (or faux-intimate} surroundings, Chadboure gives us his avant side, mixing scratches and hollow knocks with great sliding slurries of notes related to, but in no way resembling, the blues and folk which sit under the surface of everything he does, even the most way-out things like this one. Richard Cochrane