Broken Hands

Berlin Airlift

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So where does an honest improviser go after post-AMM? After Derek Bailey and Keith Rowe have deconstructed the guitar well beyond everyday recognizability, what's left to do? One clear pathway is a return to melodic playing, albeit from a stance well informed by all that has come before. One can hear this in the work of Taku Sugimoto and Burkhard Stangl, for instance, though each of those players makes strong use of silence and careful placement of notes. The guitar duo Broken Hands, consisting of Anthony Guerra on electric and Michael Rodgers on acoustic, goes for a more aggressive approach, but shies away from neither tonal content nor oblique allusions to other forms, from the blues to Bailey-esque innovations. The set here, though divided into ten segments, appears to have been done in one continuous sitting; there is a casual atmosphere in place that includes chatter between the players and the ambient sounds of passing motor vehicles, for instance. They eschew any electronic effects, instead using deep, ringing tones to provide a bed for frenetic scrabbling, microtonal note-bending, and intense musical conversation. If the spirit of John Fahey had been filtered down via Zoot Horn Rollo into Derek Bailey's fingers, the result might have been something like this. Individual portions like "Comeback," with its insistent, low chords supporting a zither-like accompaniment, are luxurious to wallow inside, while spikier tracks are just uncomfortable enough to require extra attention in order to dissect. If there is the occasional misstep, like the sarcastic, faux-hip commentary that makes up the brief ninth cut, it's more than made up by the generally high level of conception that walks a fine, difficult line between relaxed and inspired. Berlin Airlift is a small gem, well worth hearing by anyone interest in the state of the contemporary guitar or in the many byways of free improv at the turn of the century.

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