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There’s a class of guitar experimenters who could be described as employing strict precision over freeform expressiveness. The music isn’t lacking in emotive impact — in fact, the rigorous control might in some ways allow the individual to stand out more.

Some of the forebears of strict-time improvisation are no longer with us. John Fahey, Michael Hedges and Rod Poole all died before their work seemed done. But others remain, one being Jim McAuley, who recorded in a trio with Poole and Nels Cline for a fantastic record released on Incus, the label co-founded by outré guitar godfather Derek Bailey. A second Acoustic Guitar Trio record was released by Long Song Records, and that label has now released a follow-up to McAuley’s excellent Gongfarmer 18, issued in 2005 by Nine Winds Records.

Gongfarmer seems to mean a survey of technique to McAuley: shortish tracks, generally five to six minutes, each exploring a different approach or preparation. On 36 he plays nylon, steel and 12 strings, and parlor and Dobro guitar, making additional use of a few simple objects (slide, tuning fork, emory board) to create ten distinct sound-fields for exploration. There’s a bluesiness to his playing at times; the tempo isn’t always strident but the precision in his playing is staggering. He gets into some prickly abstractions on “The Eyelids of Buddha” (at 11 minutes the longest track here) and some nice noise with vibrating implements on “Another November Night,” but it’s the nylon string excursions which are the most rewarding. The classical guitar isn’t heard as often in experimental music, so McAuley has more ground to stake as his own. On those four tracks he plays with baroque and flamenco guided by his own innovative spirit. And throughout, McAuley makes a beautifully uncommon music for guitar.


Kurt Gottschalk

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