Due to technical difficulties, Stylus will continue the essay portion of its year-end festivities on Friday.

Sir Richard Bishop


ir Richard Bishop’s day job is with the Sun City Girls and the Sublime Frequencies label, but those two pieces of information are mighty misleading. Bishop’s solo guitar work has thus far had little to do with the sound of the Girls and even less to do with the output of Sublime Frequencies. Instead, his solo guitar work falls neatly in line with a long line of forbearers and contemporaries that are seeking to unearth hidden trails left to pursue on the instrument.

Last year’s Wooden Guitar compilation proved this idea without a shadow of a doubt, revealing a healthy culture that has emerged from underneath the long shadows of both John Fahey and Leo Kottke. Taking elements from these two masters of the genre, each artist on the compilation added or subtracted important elements from the existing canon, emerging with wholly original works.

Bishop’s particular formations are a careful mixture of both Delta blues and Middle Eastern ragas. For every eight minute trance-inducing epic, there’s a three-minute ditty just around the corner. And while the whole experiment sounds to be a match dreamed up by a madman, the combination works beautifully, adding exciting new keys into the blues idiom and a brevity to those songs that once took eternities to build into something interesting.

“Rudra’s Feast” is the gem here, working its way through a variety of ideas in its eight minute length, but culminating in the most electrically charged moment of the disc via its climactic moments. While the playing is sloppy (you can nearly hear Bishop’s hand falling off the guitar at points, but miraculously righting itself on the way up), but that isn’t really the point either. Instead, “Rudra’s Ghost” acts as a litmus test for the listener: do you prefer the controlled and subtleties of Jack Rose? Or would you prefer to listen to a punk version of Basho-Junghans?

It’s the question that you’ll have to answer for yourself over Improvika’s 46 minute running time, but one that I’ve found myself struggling with for far longer than that. On the one hand, overt passion in the playing is an element that’s sorely lacking in the examples of the Wooden Guitar artists on Locust. On the other, there has to be a level that they maintain before indulging themselves too greatly. Luckily, Bishop is far too talented to let things fall into that trap and Improvika serves as a reminder to the many avenues still left to the instrumental guitarist.

Reviewed by: Sarah Kahrl

Reviewed on: 2004-12-07

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