Boomkat Product Review:
Over a decade since they were initially released on cassette, Tashi Dorji's bewitching first solo guitar improvisations have finally been remastered and given the vinyl treatment. Inspired by Derek Bailey, John Fahey and South Asian raga forms, Dorji's expressive takes feel unpredictable and almost punky, minimal but swarming with pure passion.
Having grown up in Bhutan, Dorji relocated to North Carolina at the start of the millennium to study, where his outlook on music began to shift. Initially captivated by Ashville's anarchist punk scene, he moved to Maine in 2006 where he discovered a tiny venue that hosted a slew of improvisational players. It was here where he became fascinated with Derek Bailey and his Joseph Holbrooke Trio, and in time, Dorji began improvising himself, quietly developing his own language with the nylon-strung guitar. In 2009, he recorded a suite of solo improvisations at a friend's studio with no intention of releasing it, but over time the tracks appeared on cassettes and short-run releases, establishing Dorji as an important, unique voice in a crowded scene.
'Guitar Improvisations' captures the moment in Dorji's musical evolution where the world opened up to him. "Improvisation walked in and there was a volcanic eruption," he explains. And that's exactly what it sounds like, crashing in with the wandering fretwork of 'Improvisation I', almost 10 minutes of loose-limbed emotional articulation that bursts directly from the soul. There's no coldness to Dorji's playing, it's technical but circumfluous, washing from rhythm to rhythm and pointing towards the tones in-between. Outbursts of notes come in turbulent waves, countered with meditative pools that signal not folksy Americana but the glittering ragas of South Asia. And on 'Improvisation IV', Dorji modifies his guitar to sound like a cross between kora and mbira, a strained, percussive rattle rather than the expected resonant twangs.
'Improvisation II' is a more angular piece, a first take that Dorji explains was made with the intention of "just playing and seeing what it sounds like." As sinewy as Derek Baily but blessed with unexpected phrasing, it's easy to hear how this captured the attention of Ben Chasny (aka Six Organs of Admittance), who included the track on the self-titled Dorji album he released on his own Hermit Hut label in 2014. But Dorji's most ambitious moment comes last, the 15-minute 'Improvisation VIII' and the prettiest track on the anthology. Here, Dorji's abstraction is balanced by sublime elegance, fluttering through its first two acts before it's disintegrated into cracked tonal shards in the final third. An effortlessly enjoyable set that captures the giddy delight of musical discovery and serendipity, 'Guitar Improvisations' is one for anyone who's exhausted the Fahey canon.