Boomkat Product Review:
You've heard of American Primitive by now, and NTS does the heavy lifting here, compiling responses to John Fahey's ideas and some parallel experiments from across Europe. It's ingenious, visionary material that draws indelible lines between US guitar music and its roots - from flamenco and folk to liturgical forms.
During the 1950s, US guitarist John Fahey developed a fingerstyle technique that he would dub "American primitive guitar". Taking ideas from folk, blues and jazz, stripping away the usual accompaniments (such as vocals and drums), and re-imagining these sounds with help from the philosophy of 20th century minimalism and Hindustani classical music, Fahey was responsible for a stylistic sea change. Its tides can still be felt today in ambient music, free improv, new age and beyond - it's hard to imagine artists like Bill Orcutt and Jim O'Rourke would have come to the same conclusions without Fahey's crucial early groundwork. Unsurprisingly, the innovative approach developed by Fahey and his peers had a serious impact on European guitarists; Aaron Angell, Bruno Halper and Samuel Strang have studied the period between 1974 and 1987 to not only gather the responses to Fahey's hybridized sounds, but also collect works that excavated similar artistic territory independently.
Spanish multi-instrumentalist Albert Giménez starts us off warmly with his ethereal, echo-drenched 1982 composition 'Conte Xinès'. He started his career as a member of electro-psych-kosmische band Neuronium and experimental troupe Macromassa, and his approach to folk music is similarly provocative, washing between gentle flamenco phrases and blurry, ambient bliss. The Fahey influence is stronger on Italian guitarist Roberto Menabò's 'Il Ritorno Dell'Enola Gay', which shouldn't be too surprising given Menabò literally wrote a book about his idol. And his countryman Maurizio Angeletti toured the country with Fahey and Robbie Basho, absorbing the American primitive sound into three prized solo guitar albums he released in the 1980s. His 'Zen & The Stone Game' (from 1983's beloved 'Go Fly A Kite') picks up on Fahey's meditative qualities, stretching its fingerstyle sequences into a gust of uplifting harmony.
Over in Germany, luthier-inventor-guitarist Hans Reichel (who was conspicuously featured on Fred Frith's 'Guitar Solos 2') was attempting to break down preconceptions of the instrument itself, developing not only new ways to play, but sculptural new builds. He constructed an ensemble of variants, using multiple fretboards and oddly-placed bridges to coax out new sounds from the guitar, all of which is evident on the chiming 'Could Be Nice Too'. Italy's Mickeranno - who released a cult self-titled LP in 1985 - travels further into the abyss on 'Dai Vetri', picking up reverb-heavy silt from Vini Reilly and integrating it with Fahey's core folksiness. Elsewhere, Irish player Norman Teeling dubs out ringing harmonics on the somnambulating 'Two Rainbows', and German duo Gereon Piller and Gerhard Krause take us to the end credits with the jaunty 'Blue Winter'.
'European Primitive Guitar' is an in-depth glimpse at a scene that's not yet been widely deconstructed, a transatlantic conversation that's still very much in progress. If you're into anything from trad folk to ear-bending free improv, it's an album that unearths some crucial and captivating missing links.