GARY LUCAS/JOZEF VAN WISSEM

Diplopia
BVHaast 0103

WILLIAM PARKER/JOE MORRIS/HAMID DRAKE Eloping With The Sun
RITI CD 007

String-driven, these CDs work with the idea of adapting traditional plucked instruments to new roles, new sounds and unusual additions. Thus, on one disc, the country bluesman’s favorite National steel guitar and the Renaissance minstrel’s lute are mixed with electronics and percussion for futuristic versions of 16th century airs. On the other, three free jazzers use instruments rescued from the stringband and world music ghettos to create some highly rhythmic improvised sounds.

A follow-up of sorts to NARCISSUS DROWNING, Dutch lutanist Jozef Van Wissem last CD which featured downtown New York guitarist Gary Lucas on three tracks, this short (31½-minute) disc has Lucas on board for all nine tracks.

Designated as DIPLOPIA or double image, the idea seems to be that Lucas’s National steel and acoustic guitars complement Van Wissem’s lute and electronics so well that they seem to be joined at the frets. Indeed on the seven songs — two appear both in studio and live versions — the duo seems to be extending the fingerpicking instrumental tradition of John Fahey and Leo Kottke. Most tunes find the lutanist advancing the sounds, which range from near gavottes to Renaissance processional themes to something that sounds suspiciously like “Ode to Joy”, with passing chords tossed out to the guitarist. The crash of percussion and suggestions of droning electronics further dislocate the melodies from four centuries-old histories.

For the most part eschewing strumming folkie accompaniment, Lucas either constructs underlying flat-picking as a continuum or uses the sort of lancet-sharp whine Bukka White or Son House could draw from their strings to comment on the proceedings. Operating in tandem or counterpoint, the two pickers often pass floating motifs back and forth, but with a single exception, have stalled the presentation on virtuosity rather than resolution.

Although it’s just as pleasant as the duo’s previous CD, DIPLOPIA is also very similar sounding. Unless some fresh input is added to their sound, the two may find themselves trapped in a medieval ghetto waiting for a musical Renaissance.

One tune, “The Mirror Stage” does offer some hope for a rebirth, though, with the allusion to sprightly Aegean dance music tossed into the mix. Interestingly enough it’s the same sort of Greco-Turkish rhythm that enlivens some of the sounds on ELOPING WITH THE SUN.

On the final and penultimate tunes of that session, for instance, the trio appears to lock into suggestions of Greek Rebetika music, harsh, urban dance rhythms played by violin, guitar oud, cenbalo and lyre. Those ethnic axes aren’t in evidence, but the three musicians are playing what is for them unusual instruments. Bassist William Parker keeps the hypnotic beat going with the zintir, a Moroccan bass lute usually associated with Gnawa music. Drum kit master Hamid Drake confines himself to creating counter rhythms on a frame drum that looks like a giant tambourine. And Joe Morris puts aside his guitar to play banjo and ukulele hybrid, the banjouke.

“Stepdance” features those Greco-Turkish suggestions unrolling over the sort of repeated bass patterns popular in Africentric jazz-funk of the 1970s and, to be honest, the Newbeats’ hit “Bread and Butter”. Drake bangs his hand drum and Morris introduces some flailing commentary with his banjo.

Gus Cannon-like chromatic blues banjo comes to the fore on “Dream”, as Drake and Parker are able to use their acoustic instruments to lock into a repetitive groove as if they were the electric bassist and drummer in a crack rhythm team from the golden age of Motown. Probably switching to the banjouke, Morris alternates the Rebetika echoes with first speedy finger picking then slurred fingering with an eccentric choice of notes.

Earlier there have been sections where it has sounded as if some Scruggs-style bluegrass banjo picking had been mixing it up with African and Middle Eastern drones. That’s because Drake seems to be able to produce snare and bass drum sounds from his one percussion implement. “Hop-kin”, the longest tune at nearly 17 minutes, finds clawhammer banjo licks facing what could be a walking jazz bass and Native American tom toms at one point. Another section turns vaguely North Indian, with the strings and percussion instruments implying the sounds of a sarod and a tabla. Wonder if Old Joe Clark ever met Ravi Shankar? Meanwhile, as Morris’s decorations on the basic tune ascends and descends the chord structure, Parker’s finger patterns don’t slacken in intensity.

An interesting experiment, this CD would probably have been better if it was one long, but more condensed track, rather than one divided into five shorter parts. It’s a disc that will be sought out by followers of any of these experimenters to see how they transfer their unique technique(s) to other instruments. Whether this total instrumental cross-dressing should be tried again may be open to argument.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Diplopia: 1. Sick 2. If it doesn’t fit, thou must acquit 3. For whom the bell tolls 4. Will o’ the Wisp 5. Diplopia 6. The Mirror Stage 7. Brethren of the Free Spirit 8. If it doesn’t fit, thou must acquit (live) 9. The Mirror Stage (live)

Personnel: Diplopia: Gary Lucas (National steel and acoustic guitars); Jozef Van Wissem (10-course Renaissance lute, electronics, percussion)

Track Listing: Eloping: 1. Sand Choir 2. Dawn Son 3. Hop-Kin 4. Stepdance 5. Dream

Personnel: Eloping: Joe Morris (banjo and banjouke); William Parker (zintir); Hamid Drake (frame drum)