At the end of this coming week (one week from yesterday), the Swiss label Intakt Records will release an absorbing album of free jazz improvisation among three highly imaginative guitarists entitled Err Guitar. Those (like myself) who have come to trust just about anything Intakt releases, particularly on the adventurous side, may well appreciate the fact that, as usual, Amazon.com has already set up a Web page for pre-orders. The improvisations were recorded at Elliott Sharp’s Studio zOaR in Manhattan. As might be guessed, Sharp is one of the guitarists, and he is joined by Mary Halvorson and Marc Ribot.
The recordings were made last year on July 25 and 26. The resulting recording has twelve tracks, across which one encounters both solos and different combinations of the three performers. While it is probably the case that each of those tracks emerged from a “stand-alone” session; Sharp has edited the entire recording in such a way that each track flows almost seamlessly into the text. Were it not for the distinct dates, one could easily assume that this was one continuous session that Sharp subsequently “parsed” into individual tracks.
Admittedly, that last sentence is a statement of personal preference. The duration of the entire album is almost 66 minutes; and, in a concert setting, I tend not to have a problem with improvisers going at it for over an hour. When such an extended duration is involved, the session tends to involve different individuals “taking the spotlight” for different periods; and that is what happens on this album. The opening track involves all three guitarists, but it is the only one that does so. Over the course of the remaining tracks, each of the guitarists gets to take a solo. Sharp also plays duos with both Halvorson and Ribot, but the two of them do not play as a duo without Sharp. Finally, the album concludes with an extended solo by Sharp that is longer than any of the preceding tracks.
Each track has been given a title; and one of those titles, “Sequoia,” applies to a Sharp-Halvorson duo that extends over two tracks. Another personal observation: I did not pay very much attention to any of these titles! I was far more interested in the diversity of technical approaches to eliciting sounds from the instrument. Truth be told, when listening to this album, I did not even give very much thought to who was playing when. Ultimately, my primary attention was directed toward the unfolding of different sonorities and the ways in which those sonorities reflected different rhetorical stances. In terms of identifying the individual threads of the fabric, so to speak, stereo separation provides a few hints, which are hardly definitive.
Had this been a concert, I suspect I would have paid far more attention to how the individual performers were engaging among themselves. However, this is an album that resides in the domain of capturing activities of jamming and then editing and mixing what has been captured. There is nothing new about this approach to making a recording; and, where free jazz is concerned, I suppose that the basic “rules of engagement” can be traced back to the making of Bitches Brew.
Mind you, no one would confuse the results on Err Guitar with the Bitches Brew album. However, Bitches Brew is another album for which my listening has little to do with words, such as those in the titles of any of the tracks or even the album itself. Every now and then, an album comes along in which attentive listening is all that really matters; and any use of verbal titles serves only to provide points of reference. Err Guitar is one of those albums, and I do not doubt that it will provide me with abundant opportunities for highly absorbing listening experiences.