(LP CS CD, Drag City, 2015)
2 Bound in Morocco3:33
3. Safe House6:00
6. International Zone6:31
7. Let It Come Down6:26
Sir Richard Bishop is an inveterate world traveler with a penchant for staying in out-of-the-way locales until the cash runs out. You wouldn’t expect him to get too hung up on physical belongings, but just such an attachment is the genesis of this rather marvelous record. During a residency in Geneva, Switzerland, he went looking for a travel-friendly instrument that he could take on his next multi-continental walkabout. There he found a parlor guitar of uncertain provenance, but most likely made in the 19th century, and the shop owner knew he had a good thing, so it was not cheap. Bishop walked away from it more than once before finally giving in to obsessive desire; once he got it, one passion gave way to another, and he headed off to Tangier, Morocco, where he spent a week waiting for the neighborhood to quiet down so he could record himself playing the thing.
This album is made up of seven pieces from those solitary evening sessions. It’s not quite unique amongst Bishop’s imposing discography, since he released another solo acoustic guitar record on the VDSQ label just last year. And its music grows from the ethnographic requisition that has been part of his practice since the 80s, when he first recorded with Sun City Girls. You can hear the influence of Middle Eastern taqsims, Indian ragas, and flamenco, but they are starting points, not formal prescriptions. The tunes plunge down dark melodic alleys and up blind-cornered inclines, the tones acquiring richness from both the resonance of antique wood and from the reverberation of his apartment’s tile walls.
But even though it is a record about an instrument, Tangier Sessions feels like an uncommonly personal expression of the philosophy that guides Bishop’s life. As befits music made by a traveling instrument in a rented room, there’s little encumbrance about this music. Even when he tosses off bravura flourishes that are frankly virtuosic, they never seem to be there just for show. Rather, Bishop’s elaborate flights celebrate what his instrument can do, and express by example the notion that having an interesting time along the way matters more than where you’re going.
- Bill Meyer