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Chris Cutler - Solo CD (album) cover


Chris Cutler


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3 stars Like Fred Frith's Guitar Solos (released almost 30 years earlier) Chris Cutler's Solo has a title that is at once accurate and misleading. Yes, it consists of a series of solo performances on the drumkit by Chris Cutler, but at almost no point do you hear anything that even resembles a conventional drum solo. Like Frith, Cutler has long been interested in modifying and extending the range of his main instrument, and he has developed a unique electrified kit. To quote from the sleevenotes: "There are no samples, pads or triggers, just acoustic drums amplified and modified with standard electronic processors; there's a table with a few tambours, a frying pan and an egg slicer - also amplified, - a miscellaneous collection of sticks, brushes, screw-rods, beaters, violin bows, battery operated cocktail mixers, some ping pong balls, a fire bell and a massager. All this is run into a small 16 channel mixer and out through various standard pedals and guitar effects. That's it." He goes on to mention a couple of other sound sources, including a CD player (usually with a disc of found sounds or sound effects) which is occasionally added to the mix, and on one of the pieces a minidisk recording of a walk through Nancy was used as an obbligato.

All of the pieces on the album were recorded as live improvisations in a variety of settings, and although the album is subdivided into 24 tracks there are essentially 3 relatively long pieces (15 minutes plus) interspersed with 2 brief 3 minute snippets. Chris Cutler was something of a latecomer to solo performance, his first being in Japan in the 1990s, although he is a veteran improviser who has worked with many of the leading lights in the field. He is uninterested in studio improvisation except as a part of the compositional process, and finds that the differing acoustic properties of the venues he plays in and the audiences themselves are significant in shaping the music that is performed, and on the album there are striking differences that are immediately obvious when the recording switches from one location to another, something that most live albums would play down. The electrified kit gives him an opportunity to indulge his "...special fondness for sustained tones, layering and variable pitching; things we drummers miss in our regular instruments."

The music itself is rooted in contemporary elecro-acoustic techniques, although there is a definite 'rock' sensibility perceptible in most of the pieces. You rarely get to hear a conventional backbeat, but the drumkit regularly makes its presence felt through all the differing layers of sonic intervention. For much of the time we're out in the wilder reaches of RIO territory, with all manner of unpredictable sounds emerging from the mix. It's not exactly melodic most of the time, but the shifting moods and textures give the music a sense of linear progression in addition to occasionally unbelievable depth. Each of the longer pieces mutates and twists into unpredictable new forms, giving the impression of a journey which, when it ends, leaves you wondering how exactly we got 'here' from 'there'. The most successful piece is the last, the remarkable 'A Walk Through Nancy', in which a minidisk recording of a walk through the town is audible throughout much of the performance. Although there is nothing so obvious on the recording as snatches of French conversation(the most readily identifiable sounds are birdsongs), this piece has a real sense of place and atmosphere along with a satisfying sense of completeness.

Solo is an album that, like Fred Frith's Guitar Solos, contains some remarkable and compelling music, but which ultimately comes across as more of a showcase for range and scope of the elcetrified kit than as a fully realised album. Nonetheless it's fascinating to hear, and if you've ever heard any of Chris Cutler's improvisations with other musicians it gives a real insight into his unique style and technique. One of the pieces, A Walk Through Nancy, is on a par with with the best of any of his other projects, and the remainder of the album is always interesting to listen to. 3.5 stars really, something of a specialised item but deeply rewarding.

(All quotes taken from the sleevenotes)

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Posted Sunday, October 29, 2006 | Review Permalink

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