Oren Ambarchi, John Tilbury – The Just ReproachFebruary 22, 2014
This album was released a few months back now, during a time when I was finding it hard to commit anything to these pages. Such is its beauty however that I have held it back from the dozens of discs that I sadly have had to shelve away without writing a word about them. It warrants your time if you can find a copy. Another reason for engaging with this particular release so closely is because it presents live recordings made by Ambarchi and Tilbury at Café Oto back in 2012, a concert that unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend, but listening now I really wish I could have done.
The title of the album at first sounds a little severe- a really great title for a record, but I wondered where it originated, perhaps a quote from somewhere. A few minutes research however reveals that The Just Reproach is in fact a pub in Tilbury’s hometown of Deal, on the Kent coast, where its highly probable that the pair spent time before or after the concert. Still, a great name for a pub and a record!
Oren Ambarchi’s effects laden guitar drones have blown hot and cold for me down the years. Whilst I have always been able to appreciate the mastery required to produce work as subtle as his, guitar drones haven’t really been my thing since the late eighties. So I wasn’t sure how this album would sound before dropping the needle on the vinyl. The thought of Tilbury fighting his way out of dense electronic drones wasn’t an enticing one. Ambarchi’s playing here though is anything but claustrophobic. His tones are indeed mostly constant, but rather than sitting as thick layers they quietly, sometimes extremely quietly glow behind Tilbury’s typically enigmatic, gloriously poignant piano figures. What this isn’t however, is a case of Ambarchi providing pretty background for Tilbury to play into. While the piano certainly feels foregrounded in the mix, and while there may not be any obvious to and ‘fro between the musicians, close, careful listening reveals an attentiveness to one another that is remarkably acute. Five minutes or so into the first side of the disc, following a deliciously rich passage of low hums and slow, stray notes the pair seem to drop away together, and as what I think is the dull, shapeless murmur of the Dalston streets outside momentarily fill the void, so Tilbury begins to scrape a wooden rod along the inside of Café Oto’s piano (which they had apparently taken delivery of the same day as the concert) and as this perfect, hauntingly ghostly sound screams out so Ambarchi immediately finds just the right response, a deep shuddering throb that casts an even darker veil over everything.
The two sides of The Just Reproach are full of moments like this. There is a consistent slowness to the recording, both in the natural pace of the music, as everything unfurls very gradually, but also somehow through the choice of sounds, as Ambarchi’s electronic swathes seem to hang steady in the air as much as shift and progress, and Tilbury’s use of the decay pedal seems to hold everything in stasis as notes are left to dissipate slowly into the night. This is a stunningly beautiful album, the perfect soundtrack to a late night’s listening and a masterclass in how two seemingly disconnected instrumental approaches can be brought together and entwined in such a way that they feel thoroughly organic and natural. The Oto performance was apparently only the second time the pair played together, and as Ambarchi is Australian so geography isn’t in favour of there being too many further meetings, but I certainly hope I get to hear them play together somewhere sometime.