Portrait of a Soul

Loren Connors

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Portrait of a Soul Review

by Thom Jurek

In 1999, Loren Mazzacane Connors entered a French recording studio with the intention of making a solo electric guitar record. What he came out with was a fully realized suite in four movements and 26 sections, titled "Day (1-14)," "Evening (15-19)," "Night (20-23)," "Dawn (24-26)." One can only surmise by the title that this is a self-portrait. Never before on record has this intimate guitarist come across as so vulnerable, so full of ache and longing that his phrases literally break in mid syntax and move elsewhere. Connors touch, no matter how lean and elegant his melodies and phrases are, has always been a physical touch, firmly on the strings, playing them through their machinations to express what had been inexpressible. But here the physicality is sheer, translucent, and almost spectral. There is a note by Connors inside the sleeve, and it states: "This started out as a portrait of a particular person (full of life, I think). But as it developed, I became more and more aware of the impossibility of people ever really connecting with one another. And it became a saddened self-portrait of a man who is simply running out of time. The last piece is a prayer, not hopeful, or religious, but to myself, that I must be satisfied." Given this statement, it would be easy to hear Portrait of a Soul as a dour, sad, even depressing work. But, in truth, it is anything but. It is among Connors' most lyrical and constant, full of fluid lines and enchanting drones as well as mysterious passages that lead nowhere and reference nothing outside. The blues that has permeated his work almost from the beginning is absent here, left to fend for itself in this suite of remembered, and reflected upon, things. The lyricism is reminiscent -- but not nearly so cheery and bright -- of that of Bill Frisell's Ghost Train album, though it sings with an older set of musical frameworks, such as the Protestant hymns of the 18th and 19th centuries. This notion, of "running out of time" and the prayer that "I must be satisfied" come directly from the font of Buddhist psychology and practice, whether or not they were inspired by such a practice. Certainly, as "Day" moves into "Evening" and "Evening" into "Night," the spaces between the notes, though even more lyrical, become more spare, allowing for the light of the dark sky and its stars and moon to shine unimpeded over the proceedings. Shapes and three note chords reverberate into the stillness, one entering just as another disappears into the barest hint of echo and reverb. As the suite rounds itself into the "Dawn" section and nears its end, time has been suspended, displaced, and has completely run out. What remains is an empty sky, the emptiness of having left behind the trappings of all expectations. The listener, like Connor's exists solely in the presence and shape of the note as it expresses itself from the fretboard. There is no place to go, nothing left to seek or hear -- even Connors' other records. Make no mistake, this is not meditative playing, though some may be tempted to call it that. Far from it. The last three pieces on this disc are them other side of meditative playing: they are simply notes being played and carry within them, each and every one, the passage of expectation and longing, the notion that time means anything other than the markers on a watch, and the entrance of a space inside a musical moment, where one is merely satisfied. This "Dawn" section then, heralds for both listener and musician, the only notion that is also an action: the acceptance that things are just as they are supposed to be at this moment, nothing more. The notes here are rounder, deeper, and the physicality of guitar player returns, grounded in the space of the note and its relationship to other notes as they slip from the fret board into the golden aether of dawn. This may be Loren Mazzacane Connors' most emotionally moving, and musically satisfying, work to date. It indeed set a new watermark for him as each succeeding album has proven -- Airs being one of them. For those who believe they've heard all Connors has to offer, seek this out because it will astonish and mystify you while simultaneously changing your mind. For the rest who are fans, this is one of the man's records you need, because it, more than any other, expresses who he was during its recording. Painfully honest, vulnerable, raw, and graceful, Portrait of a Soul is unlike any record ever made.

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