s an introduction to the world of solo acoustic guitar performance past John Fahey and Jim O’Rourke, the usual and popular inroads to this music, Wooden Guitar succeeds powerfully.
Jack Rose opens up the disc with “Red Horse II.” After a short introductory movement, Rose jumps right into the piece, using the same sort of repetition that can be found on O’Rourke’s Bad Timing. No pedal steel here, however- and the lack of that element or any other accoutrement forces Rose to rely on his own devices. His circular motif is returned to numerous times, but is rounded out by slight changes that add notes and showcase his quick fingers to maximum effect. It’s a busy piece, certainly, but one that acts as an accessible opener to the proceedings.
Next up is the only performer to appear twice on the disc- Steffen Basho-Junghans. His first offering is “A North Thuringian Raga.” Mixing the Indian raga with his German roots and a Piedmont-styled technique here, Basho-Junghans turns in an affecting performance that features a stable low-end bassline and a beautifully constructed upper register melody. On his second entry, Basho-Junghans uses the same sort of quick finger-picking to apparently evoke the aural equivilance of “Smiling Penguins.” The track is a tour-de-force and almost verges into showmanship, if not for the minimalist nature of the track. Perhaps the most interesting part of the track is hearing the artist at work, hitting the strings so hard that alien sounds emerge from the intricately composed piece, by-products of Basho-Junghans furious performance. Kottke would be proud.
Tetuzi Akiyama reveals the abstract side of things in his “Time Between” and, if taken in another context, this track could have the ability to be the best thing here. Unfortunately, in this company, Akiyama’s broken melodies and inventive string experiments come off as little more than a sidelight to the meat of the release, rather than the centerpiece that it could have been. At 20 minutes long, Basho-Junghans’ aforementioned “Smiling Penguins” can not come soon enough to return the release to its upbeat and bouncy self.
The concluding piece of the compilation comes from Sir Richard Bishop- a member of Sun City Girls. The piece wavers, at first, into falling into the territory that “Time Between” occupied effortlessly. Bishop, however, maintains a strict melodic sense and follows the foreboding Spanish twinged piece to its logical end. Its length, again, is an issue. At fifteen minutes, it seems like there is fat to be cut, if wanted. But overall, Bishop’s contribution offers another perspective into the world of wooden guitar.
And, as said before, as an introduction to some of the current luminaries exploring this branch of traditional, yet oddly avant-garde, music, Wooden Guitar is a wonderful primer. If, however, you don’t already enjoy the efforts of Fahey, Kottke and others like them, then this may be one to pass on.