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(LP/CD Locust Music, 2004)


Provenance Unknown  3:54

Gnostic Gem  7:00

Rudra's Feast  8:20

Cryptonymus  2:05

Jaisalmer  6:35

Mystic Minor 23  4:06

Tripurasundari  8:37

Rose Secretions  2:48

Skull of Sidon  2:45  


Thanks to his prolific activities as a member of the omnivorous improvisational juggernaut Sun City Girls, Sir Richard Bishop's guitar case has surely gathered stickers from more exotic ports of call than any merchant marine's steamer trunk. SCG's extensive travels, both temporal and otherwise, have enabled Bishop to cast his net globally to incorporate numberless strains of Middle Eastern, Pan-Asian, and North African flavors into his distinctive instrumental style. In 1998, Bishop released his first solo album-- the exquisite Salvador Kali-- on John Fahey's Revenant label. Containing pieces for solo guitar and piano, the album revealed a delicate lyricism not always evident on the more savage and protean SCG releases such as Valentines from Matahari. Last year, Bishop followed up Kali with a lengthy contribution to Locust's Wooden Guitar collection, which also featured pieces from the kindred guitar spirits of Steffen Basho-Junghans, Jack Rose, and Tetuzi Akiyama. This compilation worked so well that apparently Locust now intends the Wooden Guitar series to be ongoing, and Improvika is the first step on that voyage. 

Improvika features an unaccompanied Bishop on a steel-string wooden guitar, and as its title implies his playing here sounds considerably more extemporaneous and free-flowing than on the more composed, stately Salvador Kali. Each of these nine songs is easily digestible portion, with track lengths in the three to eight-minute range.  The sonic disembarkation point of Bishop's solo work lands him somewhere in the fertile geography between the Eastern mysticism of Robbie Basho and the freewheeling gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt. But his influences are too obscure and far-reaching to constrain him to even that immense landscape (perhaps his work is best classified as one song title here appropriately puts it: "Provenance Unknown"), and on Improvika he explores and links a worldwide series of underground caverns and alleyways. One minute, the bewitching, multi-colored scarves of "Rudra's Feast" dance and swirl before your eyes, and the next things segue abruptly into the percussive, Derek Bailey-like dissonance of "Cryptonymus". The Spanish-flavored "Rose Secretions" sounds like the priest preparing his vestments before praying above a fallen toreador, while the stormy chords that cap "Skull of Sidon" seem to signal mysterious ceremonies of a much darker order.  Throughout the album, Bishop displays a virtuosity that borders on the flabbergasting. On high-wired tracks like "Jaisalmer" it sounds as though he leaves no portion of the fretboard untouched, and he moves with such frantic dexterity that it's difficult to imagine someone's mind operating that quickly, let alone their fingers. Rather than mere technical proficiency, however, it's Bishop's uncanny ability to translate and synthesize the many and varied tongues of his antecedents that makes Improvika so intoxicating.

 - Matthew Murphy (Pitchfork)