Mike Cooper

Do I Know You?/Trout Steel

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It is incredible to observe the breadth of collaborators that Mike Cooper encountered on his recordings throughout the years. What other artists could claim to have come out of the British folk revival scene and recorded albums with songsmiths Ian A. Anderson and folk outsiders such as the Incredible String Band and American folk guitar legend Stefan Grossman, as well as British free jazz luminaries Harry Miller and Alan Skidmore? Well, an artist who defined himself as an exceptional songwriter in the vein of Randy Newman and Tim Buckley circa 1970, who later broke his music down into Derek Bailey-style improvised abstraction, recorded Hawaiian slide guitar instrumentals, and later ambient and electronic music. Such an artist could only be called a polymath of sorts. Few musicians have genre-hopped so successfully. Not to imply that Mike Cooper is a gadfly by any means, only on hearing one of his early albums, such as Places I Know, one could expect that this was an art form developed for life. No sooner had the British-born guitarist mastered a form then he moved on, maintaining an awesome vocabulary in his guitar playing that is his most striking and distinguished trait. Four of his albums were released on Dawn in the beginning of the '70s and BGO has collected them for reissue in pairs. The first two of these rare LPs turned digital in 1996, followed shortly thereafter by Places I Know/The Machine Gun Co. Do I Know You ? features Cooper with Harry Miller on bass, an improviser who was integral in swaying Mike Cooper's songs further leftward than his folksy 1969 debut for Pye. While still sitting firmly in the folk tradition of Wizz Jones, Pentangle, and Michael Chapman, he started to display avant-garde and improvisation gestures that would resurface later in a series of strong mid-'70s recordings for Nato. His diversity is extraordinary and can possibly be explained in the fact that your scribe for a long time believed there were two Mike Coopers, one a songcrafter of extraordinary talent in the vein of Randy Newman or Bert Jansch and the other from a decade later, a post-John McGlaghlan/Derek Bailey-type guitarist (albeit also of extraordinary talent). As time proved, there was also Mike Cooper the avant-garde composer, Mike Cooper the master Hawaiian steel guitarist, and Mike Cooper the ambient electronica artist. Whatever the form he adopts, he succeeds in making it his own. This pair of albums consists of essential recordings of a vital artist that deserve attentive listening from fans of folk, jazz, and improvisation alike.

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