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Bill Orcutt

Four Guitars Live (2LP)

Label: Palilalia Records

Format: 2LP

Genre: Experimental

Preorder: late March 2024

As Bill Orcutt’s most mature and exhilarating LP to date, Music for Four Guitars was a slab of undeniable Apollonian beauty. Its approachability and obvious novelty landed it not only on the year- end lists of every key-pushing codger in the underground in 2022, but also on NPR in the form of the Bill Orcutt Guitar Quartet, an ensemble assembled to perform this music and featuring Wendy Eisenberg, Ava Mendoza, and Shane Parish. But while their Tiny Desk Concert gave a whiff of the quartet’s easy intimacy, the sterile confines of the virtual recital medium still left a puzzle unsolved: how might these brutally mannered bricks of minimalist counterpoint sound on a stage in front of actual breathing bodies?

This was the question foremost in my mind when I first saw the quartet in San Francisco a few months before this double live LP was recorded. I was already familiar with the prowess of Eisenberg and Mendoza, two of the most technically intimidating shredders to blast out of the noise/improv underground, and knew Parish as the mastermind behind the epic translation of Orcutt's quartet recordings into a fully notated score. I was ready to be “blown away" — and I most assuredly was. The quartet navigated Orcutt's jaggedly spiraling right angles into the shining core of the compositions with joyous ease, faithful to the originals in nearly every way (though their tempos were slightly ramped up, Blakey style, to communicate their breathless rush). The renditions were flawless, stellar and inspiring. I had expected nothing less.

Which leads us to this album, Four Guitars Live, recorded in November of 2023 at Le Guess Who? festival during the quartet’s first European tour. The true essence of this set is not simply in its faithfulness to the source compositions, but in the group's easy familiarity (no doubt the result of weeks on the road) and the generosity of their improvisations, both collective and solo. Orcutt, clearly cognizant of both the caliber of his collaborators and the singularity of their voices, has given everyone room to stretch out, and all have delivered some of their most moving passages to date. One of this record's great thrills for me is imagining a listener, perhaps unfamiliar with the outer limits of contemporary guitar improvisation (or the Tzadik catalog), slammed into catatonia by Mendoza's liquefying lines on Out of the corner of the eye, then revived and healed by the languid, breathy lines of Parish's unaccompanied, spaced-out breakdown of the track's main theme, finally only to be crushed by Eisenberg’s staggering extended solo on Only at dusk (somehow channeling both Eugene Chadbourne and Buck Dharma).

There's another peak, which begins at the end of side B, in Orcutt's own languid solo, encapsulating the flowing focus of his recent solo LPs, and serving as an introduction to the next side's ensemble tour de force, the psychic heart of the album, On the horizon: its melodic core passing first to Orcutt, launching into a sublime solo turn by Eisenberg, a duo of Parish and Mendoza, before parachuting back into the ensemble for a smashup rendition of Barely visible and Glimpsed while driving (renamed Barely driving) knitted together with an softly bubbling ensemble improvisation. The transfer is orchestrated yet seamless, its tonal form undeniable even in the presence of obvious dissonance. The breadth of Four Guitars Live gives lie to the false notion that agile, polytonal improv is necessarily without soul, is necessarily inaccessible. Rather, Four Guitars posits a human avant-garde music that the most conservative will recognize as virtuosic and revel in its classic intervals, boiling counterpoint, and precisely- layered facets. Even the rockers in your life might dig it, so why not pass it on?" - Tom Carter

Details
Cat. number: PAL 080LP
Year: 2024