Steve shows he is more than just a good guitar player on this double album of instrumentals – he also shows he has an adventurous spirit and is a solid composer having already written for other artists and for dance. Steve, who has been playing drums and guitar since the age of seven, works in the music industry and his talents for free improvisational jazz were noticed by Nick Didovsky who invited him to play with the legendary Dr Nerve for a time.
That early period is annotated in the jerky opening synth, drum and guitar track, "No jazz" penned in 1989. It is followed by a more recent piece "One Little Life", which wraps a typical hi-lo RIO routine around a warm bass figure. The odd meter is accompanied by a kind of musical drag and release - like someone pulling a heavy bag behind them on a bit of elastic!
The package itself compiles music from Steve's career between 1987 and 2007 and is divided (more or less, there are minimalist pieces such as "Guitar Loom #3" and "In and Around Susan" on disk one) between the harder edged, band structured RIO of disk one and the more reflective electronic based pieces on disk two. Some are live band recordings and some are at least in part improvised.
Many of the pieces recall particular high and low spots in Steve's life; "The Cliff" features a pump organ recorded in a Maine church whilst on vacation whilst "Trance 4" refers to his recovery from an awful car crash in the mid 90s. Apart from band compositions written around guitar, bass and drums, the album features experimental work from the electronic and programming genre. One such is "Splice", a delightfully neurotic and shambling mix of loops, squeaks and tinkling percussion which surely must have featured in Dr Nerve sometime. The heavy bag is back in "Retro" which also plays with reversed tapes as well as guitar effects. An early orchestral sampling technique is displayed on "Maneuvers", a complex Stravinsky—esque structure.
The more minimalist and electronic second disk opens with an atmospheric female voice mixed with an eerie blend of improvised parts on a variety of string and keyboard instrumentation. The harp-like Gambian Kora features on its eponymous track, an instrument Steve says he has had to develop the tuning for himself as even the instrument's Griot exponents don't know what it should be. There are more intriguing electronic and programmed pieces on this disk, several of them entirely improvised although, arguably, once you decide to sample or edit particular ones for presentation they are no longer truly improvised works. Either way "2 Short", "Surrounded", "Truro" and "Render" contribute much of interest in terms of harmonics and effects. "Surrounded" is particularly impressive sonically with its washes of low and high end sound waves, driven intermittently by an arpeggiator to provide rhythm.
" Barbiville Revisited" brought a smile to my face remembering the hilarious point in the Dr Nerve gig I attended some years back where these obnoxious children's toys were mutilated to music. This is one of the more aggressive pieces on disk 2 with its heavy assault of electronic drums and scything keyboards. The title track is a film piece intended to recall some of the worst features of the awful Bosnian ethnic cleaning period of Europe's recent history. The militaristic drumming, deep semitones, sudden burst of strings and spacious sound effects evoke the feeling of despair and terror.
Steve's contributions can also be found on Birdsongs of the Mesozoic and works by other well know Rock in Opposition and free impro artists such as Chris Cutler and Eric Rosenthal. The artwork contains extensive sleeve notes about the motive behind and composition of each track. Excellent music for fans of impro, avant-garde rock, electronica and free jazz.
1. No jazz
2. One little life
4. Guitar loom 3
5. In and around Susan
6. The Cliff
7. Trance 4
1. In a room I saw you
3. Guitar Loom 1
4. 2 Short
7. Barbiville Revisited
8. Guitar loom 2