Robert Musso

Absolute Music

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Best known as the engineer on numerous Bill Laswell projects, Robert Musso went it almost alone on his first album, Absolute Music (Laswell plays bass on one cut). Musso is primarily a guitarist but also plays a variety of unidentified string instruments here, using overdubbing but eschewing synthesizers, samplers, or drum machines. His compositions have the kind of exoticism that Laswell would become identified with in several of his guises; indeed, it's interesting to speculate on who was influencing whom. At his best, on pieces like the delightful "Surakarta," "Musso" achieves a seamless blending of pop sensibility with Southeast Asian influences, particularly from Javanese popular music. The cascade of luscious melodies, one after another, has one wishing the song would never stop. "Celtify," as one would expect, draws on various Gaelic sources, especially hammered dulcimer music, and again manages to do so without pretentiousness. Similarly, "Orientation" combines koto-derived lines with grittier guitar work with its origins in New York no wave. Musso never exploits any pyrotechnics on his instruments, preferring to devote himself to the overall sound of the piece, and the results have held up fairly well over time, unlike some of Laswell's like-minded work from the same period. If he drifts a little on a space-out track like "Sounds of the Apocalypse," the highlights more than make up for it. Absolute Music is a fine, rather unique album and ranks with the best music produced by the "Laswell stable" in the late '80s.

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