Pascal Marzan & Roger Smith: Two Spanish Guitars (2008)
Everything about this release has a disarming sense of honesty about it. From the no-nonsense statement of its title, an echo of Roger Smith's earlier solo album on Emanem, Spanish Guitar (2002), to the separation of the two guitars that allows us to hear who is doing what, to the clean clarity of the recording, it is refreshingly straightforward. Never let it be said that musicians' use of electronics is less than honest, but it can make the music difficult to untangle. Not so here. What you see is what you get.
The resulting music displays a wide range of moods and techniques, although each piece has a consistency to it. Marzan and Smith seem (somehow) to know where they are going throughout, and do not get waylaid or distracted. Although obviously improvised, each piece has a beginning, middle and end, rather than feeling as if the players have been pulled hither and thither. At one extreme, both players simply delight in employing the ringing resonant tones of their nylon-strung guitars, as displayed on "Holiday in my headpart 1," allowing sufficient time and space for each of their notes to ring and decay. At the other extreme, they explore a range of extended techniques. "Holiday in my headpart 3" features prolonged sounds like brushing and popping. Ultimately, the differing techniques are integrated together successfully. The three part suite has a coherence that belies the contrasting sounds.
Pairings of acoustic guitars are comparatively rare, but all the more so when they are freely improvising. The last comparable release I can recall is Acoustic Guitar Trio (Incus, 2001); fittingly, the current pairing came about when Smith was invited to Paris in 2006 to play at a concert in honor of Derek Bailey. Bailey himself would doubtless have appreciated this music, and recognized his own influence on it. He would also applaud the fact that these are home recordings (with occasional extraneous noise which detracts from the music not one jot) that radiate the pair's pleasure in playing together. The intimacy of this music makes one feel like an eavesdropper, privileged to be allowed to listen in and share that pleasure.
Track Listing: Be careful of cheap imitations; Boiling water; Flowing water; Freezing water; Holiday in my head--part 1; Holiday in my head--part 2; Holiday in my head--part 3; Chemical warfare in Wood Green; Sparrow armour--part 1; Sparrow armour--part 2; Bye Baiji.
Personnel: Pascal Marzan: unamplified Spanish guitar; Roger Smith: unamplified Spanish guitar.