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Richard Pinhas and Barry Cleveland (guitars etc.) – Mu – Cuneiform

Two iconoclastic guitarists weave together an experimental, improvisational session.

Richard Pinhas and Barry Cleveland – Mu – Cuneiform, Rune 426, 48:20 [1/16/17] ****:

(Barry Cleveland – producer, mixer, guitar, Moog guitar, bowed guitar, bowhammer guitar, E-Bow guitar, sitar guitar, M-Tron, Vocalizer 1000, kalimba, zither, gong, incidental percussion, percussion programming, samples; Richard Pinhas – guitar, guitar synthesizer, Metatronics; Michael Manring – bass, E-Bow bass; Celso Alberti – drums, electronic drums, percussion)

The 48-minute Mu is the first collaboration between French guitar individualist Richard Pinhas and equally inventive San Francisco Bay Area guitarist Barry Cleveland. The four extended tracks form an unpredictable, non-classifiable and arresting combination of progressive rock, art rock, experimental improvisation, instrumental psychedelia and intriguing electronics. For those not in the know, Pinhas has been a key person in experimental music since the early 1970s: in spirit he is France’s version of King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. Cleveland came to some prominence in the ‘80s and ‘90s, working in a number of bands and cross-genre projects. The two friends have played on stage but Mu marks the first time they have gone into a studio together. Rounding out the group is bassist Michael Manring, who was important to the Windham Hill label (particularly the successful ensemble Montreux) and drummer Celso Alberti (a Brazilian who has spent his professional career in NYC and in the Bay Area, recording or touring with Herbie Mann, Steve Winwood, Airto Moreira and many more). The quartet taped their fully improvised performance in a quick session lasting just under four hours. Then Cleveland put a lot of time and determination into developing the finalized mix by means of post-production, where he included instruments, sounds, effects and built the material into a cohesive whole.

Mu commences with the 9:13 “Forgotten Man,” which was the last tune Pinhas shaped for this album. The composition began with only Pinhas’ broad guitar-synth underpinning. The shadowy, film-tinted portrait was then filled out with Cleveland’s programmed percussion, which has a polyrhythmic pulse akin to tribal drumming, and Cleveland’s other post-production permutations. It’s the only number without Manring and Alberti. The almost ten-minute “Zen/Unzen” spools steadily, frequently engendering involved and motive audio emanations. Pinhas opens with a guitar loop facilitated by his Metatronics live-looping and effects system (similar to Fripp’s Frippertronics), and then Manring and Alberti arise and establish a strong, Afro-aligned groove. Cleveland adds some Jon Hassell-inspired melodies via a toy woodwind synth and some jazzy, simulated trumpet by way of MIDI guitar lines. The piece wends through world-fusion terrain, and neo-progressive/jazz rock through the use of Echoplex sounds and the amped-up, twinned guitars. The CD’s atmospheric closer, the relatively brief “Parting Waves” (at 4:09 the shortest cut by far), evokes some of Brian Eno or Michael Brook’s accomplishments, accentuated by grey-toned guitar loops, Manrings’s ominous bass, and some flowing 12-string guitar lines. Supplementary found sound voices and ocean sounds help provide an exterior, environmental characteristic.

The centerpiece (both aesthetically and literally) is the nearly 26-minute opus, “I Wish I Could Talk in Technicolor.” There is a large variety of tones and textures in this multi-layered assemblage. Here, Pinhas employs his live-looping and effects methodology in an impressive technique as he replies to abrupt changes in tempo, timbre and group activity. Cleveland states Pinhas’ performance “may be the most dynamic and nuanced I’ve heard from him yet.” During the comprehensive passages there are mesmerizing grooves (some crafted by Cleveland’s overdubbed kalimba); Pinhas’ throbbing guitar loops; Manring’s variable and often funky bass lines; Alberti’s acoustic and electronic percussive efforts; sitar guitar which delivers psychedelic and South Asian attributes; and spacey guitar drones and bowed guitar effects which supply an art-rock gradation. There are moments when it seems the foursome venture into unknown territory and exploration where familiar landmarks are non-existent, but Alberti and Manring are able to ground the proceedings so direction is essentially always maintained.

TrackList: Forgotten Man; I Wish I Could Talk in Technicolor; Zen/Unzen; Parting Waves

—Doug Simpson

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