Contemplative, understated, subdued -- these are not adjectives usually applied to Dutch jazz-rock electric guitarist Corrie van Binsbergen. A scorching soloist with a strong Zappa bent, van Binsbergen has notably been the ringleader of her freewheeling Brokken (Lumps) or Grote Brokken (Big Lumps) ensembles on and off since 1986, mixing jazz, pop/rock, blues, and more in an energetic and sometimes theatrical mélange that pushes the envelope while making sure her audience has a rollicking good time. She can fire off Zappa-esque and fusiony shredding solos and improvise with the best of the Amsterdam jazz scene, but her quieter, ruminative side has received comparatively less attention. Her 2013 solo CD Self Portrait in Pale Blue should change that. As van Binsbergen explains in her liner notes, in August of that year she entered Osnabrück, Germany's Fattoria Musica studios to record this solo guitar album, at the suggestion of pianist Albert van Veenendaal, after another van Binsbergen project scheduled for the studio was canceled. This happenstance came after important changes in the guitarist's life -- the death of her mother (to whom the album is dedicated), a hand fracture that prevented her from playing for months, a move to the countryside -- leading to a period of self-reflection. As it turned out, Self Portrait in Pale Blue would become her vehicle for responding musically to this particular place in her life's journey.
Van Binsbergen recorded this music utterly without preparation -- "tabula rasa," she says -- and the absence of preconceptions in the 13 pieces here is further reflected by their lack of titles. Her guitar artistry unfolds in each moment, and listeners in a sense become companion travelers, set loose in the music without titular guideposts. Despite the lack of advance planning, van Binsbergen plays with considerable focus and clarity, and is spacious but never aimless. When her immediate but considered notes and chords ring clearly out into space, a sense of overarching form is inescapable. Fluid, probing, melodic, and lyrical, she is also a master of apparently real-time effects -- including multi-layered looping and simulated backmasking -- employed with appropriate subtlety to provide added dimensions to the sound. This session may have provided van Binsbergen with a sort of quiet solitary catharsis, but she and engineer Chris Weeda clearly knew how to fashion a varied, engaging experience for those listening in. Across tracks ranging from eight minutes to a minute and a half or less, van Binsbergen -- easily comparable to the likes of Bill Frisell or David Torn here -- bends long sustained notes, merges liquid lines with atmospheric chords, conjures up ethereal tones and alien scrapings, and even throws in some straightforward muted picking that flirts with countrified sprightliness. Van Binsbergen plays over her own prerecorded soundscapes on several pieces, but it is a measure of her formidable talents that, whether she is double-tracked or not, the music throughout Self Portrait in Pale Blue is of equal beauty and depth.