Paolo Angeli


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A disc collecting performances by the Sardinian guitarist Paolo Angeli is part of the Recorded label's series of documents originating from Baltimore's High Zero Festival of improvised music. Silver discs are stacked as high as so-called "thick burgers" in the aftermath of such events, hours upon hours of performances taped, involving all manner of interaction twixt solo, duo, threesome, quartet and so forth. For the Angeli collection there are four pieces presented, only one of which could be described as brief. Angeli presents a tour de force in the opening solo, "Distanze." It is here that the listener who was unfortunately not able to attend this festival in 2003 is introduced to the bravura sound of Angeli's instrument, the "modified Sardinian guitar." A Sardinian guitar appears somewhat larger than the better-known Spanish guitar, a comparison that can also be made between portions of food in the two countries. Angeli, described in the liner notes as a clockmaker, bicyclist and (sic) "compass," has forever altered the instrument with additions galore, working from the tried and true understanding of this type of acoustic instrument as a potential resonating box as well as a set-up for sympathetic strumma-strumma. Angeli takes about a dozen minutes to present some of the basically devastating capabilities of such an instrument once modified by a mad scientist. The strings can sound like a bunch of guys from Java with xylophones and gongs, then can approximate them being flattened by a tsunami. Pieces of metal can be attached to the body of the instrument and all of a sudden it is a giant kalimba being dragged through the jungle by an army jeep. Out comes the violin bow at a totally appropriate moment and there is also an electronic set-up to stomach like a fifth course, toggle switches and knobs in the picture and the guitarist playing his instrument both on his lap and straight up and down like a cello. All in all it is quite an act to follow and there is no question of that process once the star of the show has been presented in solo. Next come a series of collaborations, each allotted widely varying allotments of exposure. A duet with Daniel Breen gets a bit more than 15 minutes, reaching a volume level that in itself can be considered a point-of-purchase. Breen's clavinet is also modified -- when last seen mounted on what was maybe an ironing board, it looked like a "cleaning lady" love-doll had been tied across the front of it and tortured with a pan of hot noodles. The combination of Angeli's instrument and approach and keen Breen is what might be called a basic point of sympathy in free improvisation. Everything works beautifully, the sound of the instruments serve to justify each other's existence and never mind if some of it seems like a portrait of mosquitoes breeding in a swamp. Better that than more than 22 minutes of "Pedoni," a trio outing that is the massive sculpture someone drops off on your porch. Maybe you want it. Maybe you don't. It involves the first episodes of traditional-sounding music on the CD, a kind of mild guitar fingerpicking sound. There is, of course, instant irony in the development; its relationship to what has preceded is almost irrelevant, the overwhelming irony is there to begin with based on the setting of a festival such as this. Drummer Mike Evans gets things off to an appealing start, yet the others allow him to wander and dominate in a manner that is once again undercut by irony. This is another of the recorded performances of the fine Neil Feather in which the visual element would have no doubt added an enriching further dimension. The final piece is a short outing with violinist Katt Hernandez and cellist Audrey Chen, both fascinating players from a new generation of improvisers with diverse amounts of modern classical influence in their backgrounds. The unique sound of "Pampani" involves the sharp resonant sound of their instruments dominating Angeli, meaning it seems like he has sort of melted away at the end of his own show. The performance also leaves the listener with a strange compositional sense -- like a suite -- existing between the four selections that is both irrelevant and misleading. This apparently is the kind of thing that happens when you invite a cellist and violinist to a knife fight, an image that anyone from the south of Italy should understand.