Bret Hart / Mark Kissinger - "Duets: Volume One" (InstrumenTales Records 2000)
Bret Hart / Ernesto Diaz-Infante - "Duets: Volume One" (InstrumenTales Records 2001)
Bret Hart / Don Campau - "Duets: Volume One" (Lonelywhistle/InstrumenTales 2001)
Bret Hart / Alonzo Phillips - "Duets: Volume One" (InstrumenTales Records 2001)

From Aural Innovations #16 (June 2001)

Bret Hart / Mark Kissinger - "Duets: Volume One"
(InstrumenTales Records 2000)

I first heard guitarist Mark Kissinger on his Free Spirit Suite collaboration with Rotcod Zzaj (reviewed in AI #11). This team-up with Bret Hart features improvised duets on prepared guitar and "low sounds". The liner notes point out that this is dedicated to the stars of the silent screen, the loose theme having given me the basis for some fun imagery. Experimental guitar music can be difficult so the focus in this case made for an enjoyable listening experience.

What I found to be the albums strength is that each instrument and sound is distinct from one another rather than being a glom of noise. Sounds are integral to the pieces. The best example, and my favorite track, is the 8 minute "Les Dents des Lon Chaney". Guitar and percussion drones combine with miscellaneous noises, like chains dragging, doors creaking, rustling over the microphone, etc. Of course none of the noises are probably produced by what they sound like but that's half the fun. What makes this piece particularly enjoyable is that the sounds, though equal in prominence to the instruments, aren't over the top in a grating or annoying way. It's noise that's pleasing to the ear, and if these are scenes from Lon Chaney films then the instruments are the atmosphere and the sounds are the action.

Other highlights include "Du Tuyau de Abbatoir". From the left speaker comes crazed avant-acid rock string raking, and from the right comes semi-dissonant single notes. The contrast really stands out given that the listener is blasted so cleanly with these varied guitars from left and right. "Force dans les Numeros, la Profondeur dans le Chagrin" features another interesting combination, in this case a pulsating efx'd guitar and dirty avant-Blues played on acoustic guitar. "Pinocchio et Bluto" is a subtle piece that struck me as sounding a bit like a dual prepared guitar symphony, partly due to the strumming which creates the same effect as a string section during intense cinematic moments. There's lots of guitar action here and each part is distinct from the other. And "Respondre a Cela!" is similar, but with more varied sounds. An interesting set of improv duets.

Bret Hart / Ernesto Diaz-Infante - "Duets: Volume One"
(InstrumenTales Records 2001)

Bret Hart's collaboration with Ernesto Diaz-Infante is similar to the Kissinger Duet in that it includes some abstract experimental guitar pieces, but also includes some more rockin' tracks. Ernesto plays prepared guitar on each track while Hart plays interesting (some homemade) devices such as Vietnamese moon lute, electric saz, E-bow, and ballpoint pen. (Can you guess which is the homemade one?)

Among the more interesting of the experimental pieces is "Closed-Head Injury Blues", with its bass-like tones, rumbling prepared guitar sounds, and brief, rapid guitar runs. On "Swingset", I really liked the almost 'non-played' runs or solos on prepared guitar. There's something strangely non-musical about it... perhaps similar to the role percussion plays. I'll call it shred soloing for the avant-garde guitarist. For "Freefall Over Their's" the duo set aside 7 minutes to develop an interesting piece that builds up slowly, increasing both the volume and intensity of the music as they bash, clang, and strum their instruments. Hart uses electric saz and E-bow which, along with the prepared guitar, creates a variety of noises and notes. There's really a lot happening here, the duo functioning more like a band constructing something along the lines of an experimental symphony. My favorite track on the disc. "Machines Or Text?" reminded me of what I saw and heard Fred Frith doing in a solo performance on prepared guitar in the mid-80s. Having had the opportunity to see for myself these "sounds" being made has been helpful ever since in envisioning what the musicians might actually be doing when producing these sounds. One moment he'd be dropping chains on it, the next strumming wildly... quite an experience.

"Spam Or Astrospam?" sees the duo venturing into surreal, distorted, jamming Rock territory. Don't take the jamming Rock too literally, though the way Hart and Ernesto take off that's how the music feels. More overtly in the Rock realm is "Gator Crawls Thru Kudzu Toward Cypress". It's lo-fi and grungy, and there's a cool shimmering guitar wave throughout that gives it character. And "Bicuspid Love" is another "rocker" of sorts, this one being more noisy and chaotic, but also changing pace quite a bit.

Bret Hart / Don Campau - "Duets: Volume One"
(Lonelywhistle/InstrumenTales 2001)

On this edition of the Duets series Bret Hart picks up his dobro for a collaboration with musician and indie radio personality Don Campau on acoustic, classical, and electric guitar. The CD is just under 20 minutes long and most of the tracks are quickie workouts that clock in under the 2 minute mark. In each case Hart took tracks sent from Campau and added dobro parts.

Many of the tracks use traditional American folk and Blues as their basis and add varying bits of avant-garde elements to the mix. Several of them really didn't do much for me, probably because the duo didn't give the music enough time to flesh out. An exception is "Lady Macbeth's Big Scene", which features a combination of percussive sounds and what sounds like Hart attacking his dobro strings. It's one of those beautiful chaos situations, and in this case the short length of the piece seems to work as the duo successfully make their concise statement. "Munch Bridge" also grabbed me a bit more being a combination of simple patterns that just sounded good. "Bad Day On The Spider Web" is an electric rock guitar and dobro workout. The dobro gets too-briefly wild and I would have really liked to have heard the duo take off with this one a little longer. But like on all the Duets discs, it's the solid combination of contrasting instrumentation and styles that makes this work. Finally, "The Catfish Suite" is the longest track on the disc at 5 minutes. It's a lazy John Fahey styled traditional piece embellished by freaky string sounds and oddball notes. Overall, this would have been a stronger album if the music had been allowed to develop more, but there's lots to enjoy here nonetheless.

Bret Hart / Alonzo Phillips - "Duets: Volume One"
(InstrumenTales Records 2001)

Another guitar/dobro duet sees Hart on guitar and Alonzo Phillips (Asteroid Schoolhouse, Camera Obtusa) on dobro. The liner notes say that the songs are influenced by Hart's childhood memories of his grandparent's hometown of Hornell, New York in the Finger Lakes Region. With this in mind, Hart and Phillips do an admirable job of painting the scenes and landscapes mined from Hart's memories, and do so with subtlety and simplicity. Several of the tracks depict simple but picturesque bluesy folk melodies from guitar and dobro. The duo base their music in traditional styles, but make plenty of room for more adventurous bits.

The CD lists 10 tracks but the CD tracking has 13, 3 of which are only a few seconds so I hope I match the titles with what I'm describing correctly. So... "Barber Supplies" is a track that's more in line with the more avant-garde nature of the Duets series. The Duets trademark style of contrasting contributions is present here with the electric guitar playing a traditional melody and dobro taking off in slightly more abstract directions. "The Neighborhood Veterinarian" and "Hammer Light" are more on the freaky, somewhat psychedelic side. "The Neighborhood Veterinarian" has some cool trippy wailing guitar notes, and "Hammer Lighter" is still Bluesy but in a distorted paisley way. And "Someone Stole My Cigars" is my hands-down favorite track on the CD. Electric guitar plays fiery rock notes and the dobro does the same but the sound is totally tripped out. Like acid-slide dobro, if that makes any sense. Wild stuff.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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