Mike Cooper / Mike Cooper & the Machine Gun Co.

Places I Know/The Machine Gun Co.

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This two-CD set reissues British artist Mike Cooper's two excellent albums, originally released in 1970 and 1971, respectively; his departure from folk-blues is evident on these two documents. His diversity is one of the most striking traits of his work, considering that Cooper has worked in free improvisation, avant-garde, Hawaiian guitar music, and -- much later in the '90s -- even drum'n'bass-inflected electronica. As a British folk-blues artist of the '60s, obvious comparisons to Bert Jansch and John Renbourn abound. Like many of his contemporaries of that movement, he progressed to a folk-rock singer/songwriter mode by 1971 and gave listeners Places I Know, which is rooted in the tradition of Tim Buckley, Jackson Browne, and Randy Newman's sophistication with the form. While underrated as a songwriter -- mainly because Cooper would seemingly switch genres before receiving deserved recognition -- his cross-pollination can be explained in his statements that avant-garde classical composers Olivier Messiaen and Györgi Ligeti were also inspirations for this dense and complex collection of songs. The second album in this set, The Machine Gun Co., had to be named knowing full well that Peter Brötzmann (Machine Gun) and Jimi Hendrix ("Machine Gun") were sharing the title, but Cooper was never afraid of blatantly displaying his influences. On this artful semi-improvised set, the guitarist stretches out into more avant-garde territory, leaving any songwriter whims behind. He approaches a jazz-inflected group sound, with Geoff Hawkins on sax, Alan Cook on electric piano, and the rhythm section of Les Calvert and Tim Richardson on bass and drums, respectively. His songs are still there, only the form is loosened up a lot -- approaching the sort of post-jazz-folk that Buckley defined with Starsailor and, if that seems like too-high praise, it is only an indication of the startling quality of this often overlooked genius.

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