Sir Richard Bishop's records may be revered by guitar geeks for their sometimes staggering technical proficiency, but his equally astonishing command of a variety of global traditions and popular styles makes them equally, if not more attractive. He always provides a way in for virtually any listener to encounter whatever world(s) he is exploring. The Tangier Sessions is a different kind of record: First, he uses one instrument throughout, and it is as much about the instrument as the player. While in Geneva, Bishop went into a shop looking for a small travel guitar. Not seeing anything he wanted, he went to leave when the man behind the counter man signaled him, took him into the back room, and pulled a guitar from a closet. No model number or concrete luthier identification was present. The only mark was a sticker that said "C. Bruno" on the inside. Bruno made guitars but he also distributed them, and this one had none of his signature markings. Bishop played it for 40 minutes, entranced by its sound. After inquiring about the price, he left, knowing he couldn't afford it. But he was obsessed. Two days later, he returned to the store and played it again. He left discouraged because the proprietor was unwilling to bargain. But Bishop could not shake the instrument's pull. The next day, to the knowing grin of the counterman, he put down a deposit. After purchasing the guitar, he took it to Tangier to play a show. He stayed in an apartment in the old city. One room was completely decorated in classic Moroccan tiles. Every night for a week Bishop improvised alone on the old guitar, capturing the music on a small digital recorder. The story of the guitar's acquisition and the unique situation for the recording are captured on The Tangier Sessions. These seven pieces flow together even as they move through sounds that have haunted the city for centuries: Those of Arabic and West African cultures meeting those of the Mediterranean and colonial Europe. Bishop is completely absorbed by the sound of his instrument, even possessed by it, exploring its nuances, idiosyncrasies, and rich tonality -- unusual for an instrument so small. On "Bound in Morocco," one can hear the echo of an oud playing traces of a folk melody wrapped in Spanish classical tradition. "Mirage" melds the spiky Malian blues runs to Middle Eastern modalism. Closer "Let It Come Down" weaves the medieval era of courtly love through late 19th century Anglo-Celtic music and West African folk song. The Tangier Sessions' sound is warm and steeped in passion, wonder, and fascination. Here, geography, history, myth, and magic are translated through an unknown guitar in the hands of a virtuosic musician.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek