Bit of an odd CD tonight, or rather, a bit of a strange combination of sounds and approaches to improvisation that kind of works simply because in theory it really shouldn’t. The disc is a duo album by Manuel Mota (electric guitar) and Jason Kahn (percussion and analogue synth) named Espirito Santo and released on the Mazagran label. The album documents a recording session by the pair in late 2009 in the cellar of the Espirito Santo building in Lisbon, which, having previously been a bank, proved to be a heavily lined space that provided the musicians with a very resonant room to record in. Certainly the two pieces here are drenched in a constant natural reverb.
The reason I say that the music perhaps shouldn’t work as well as it does is because the pair each make sounds that, when described here in words don’t seem to connect so well with each other. Jason Kahn, no stranger to these pages is his usual, simple, refined and yet texturally rich self, perhaps even more understated here than usual, working with the softest of bassy drum vibrations and humming tones. Little eruptions of fizzing white noise appear here and there, but in general his (rather lovely) contributions remain in a dark corner of the room, in fact blending wonderfully with the extreme acoustics of the space and using them to enhance the sound. Mota then, plays a slow, but almost unbroken stream of murkily sounding semi melodic guitar codas into this bed of sound laid down by Kahn. His approach verges on jazz styling, a kind of deceptively aimless wander through little patterns and musical shapes. His playing is again ‘treated’ by the room, so a ringing note seems to blur slightly as it hangs in the (I suspect relatively large) space. The sensation is a bit like I imagine hearing this music piped underwater could be, and as in the second track he applies some kind of muted wah-wah effects to the guitar this becomes an even more apt comparison.So as Kahn’s contributions remain completely abstract, dense and yet unobtrusive, reminding me (as his music often does) of the semi-hidden layering of an Agnes Martin painting- thin patterns lost in fields of greys, so Mota’s playing gives the music form and shape, albeit it of the unstructured, hard to pin down kind.
I must be honest and say that, by the mid point of the second of the two lengthy tracks here, Mota’s playing does begin to tire on the ears a little, and I found myself listening more for Kahn’s subtle abrasions as much as anything. Part of me, a probably quite uncharitable part of me,would like to have heard a lengthy piece of Kahn’s work alone in this powerfully resonant room. I am reminded often of the early Gunter MÃ¼ller / Taku Sugimoto album I am happy if you are happy in many ways. Mota’s playing here doesn’t quite have the soulfulness of Sugimoto on that album, but the collision of abstract textures and semi-melodic pondering, and the odd sensation that the two are going about their own thing without too much obvious interaction takes me back to that early release. So, a little long, and the guitar doesn’t always work for me, but if you are a fan of Kahn’s work this is a fine example of how good a musician he has become in recent years.
Talking of Jason Kahn, he will be one of the names amongst the superb line-up of musicians announced to be playing at next year’s Audiograft Festival in Oxford. I am somewhat stunned that such a collection of names will be performing in my hometown on one bill, something I didn’t ever think could happen. I guess this is what can be done if you combine a little bit of academic money with that rarest things- musically switched on people holding the purse strings.