Vignes – Signal To Noise

Signal to Noise talks about Vignes

It’s with both joy and sadness that I’ve been listening to this superb 2003 live date by Rod Poole, Jim McAuley and Nels Cline. Joy because of the long-overdue exposure McAuley has been receiving (at least relatively, in this tiny comer), but sadness because of Poole’s senseless murder in 2007. So here is a remembrance: a gorgeous trio of improvisations, a reminder of the beauty in this music of the margins, this strange and lovely sound that remains unheralded, doggedly championed, and lovingly explored. Cline has a Lydia Lunch quote on his website: “The only thing worse than a guitar is a guitarist.” It’s hard to find convincing guitar improvisers, that’s for damn sure. It’s amazing that three of this rare breed found each other. United not just by a shared love of microtonal music but by a capacious sense of the possibilities of this maligned and overdetermined instrument, these three players create wonders. It’s not about technique, though there’s plenty of that, and it’s not about solos (though there’s abundant expression and even more emotion).

The seamless interactions yield bright tapestries, woody thickets, groaning drones, lovely detuned daubs, and flinty shapes at the edges of lonesome arpeggios. Rhythm, texture, line, whatever: it all comes from a shared love for the myriad possibilities of the acoustic guitar. The preparations are used subtly and effectively, not calling attention to anything other than the music. For example, at the end of “Vignes 1″ theres a bracing percussive package where somebody plays what sounds like a Raymond Strid press roll. There are lengthy exhalations and whispers on “Vignes 3.” And there are some lovely passages for bowed guitar, especially in the very electric drones that conclude “Vignes 3.”

As bracing as individual moments are—like the chorus of broken kotoson “Vignes2″–what’s so ntrancing about this trio is the way they combine such angularity and improv archness with compelling rhythmic momentum, fragile lyricism, and sweet/sour melody. Occasionally, in creeps a bent note that conjures up idiomatic references, but it’s always suggestive rather than declamatory. The pieces really breathe, too, and no matter how dense the trio get, they always follow passages of resounding and chiming with a bunch of space, getting small, scrubbing and ru~ing away as if they’re trying to keep a lonesome fire alight. This stuff has such audible integrity, such passion, and you can practical ly hear the listening.

Jason Bivins

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