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Alan Licht - A New York Minute

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Artist: Alan Licht

Album: A New York Minute

Label: XI

Review date: Jan. 4, 2004

Alan Licht, primarily known as a guitarist, has played with a who's-who of avant musicians, from Rashied Ali to John Zorn, Anton Fier to DJ Olive. He also was a member of Run On and Love Child, and has toured with various other bands over the years. He's also perhaps less well-known as a writer, and, as demonstrated on this double CD, studio manipulator.

A New York Minute is divided into a studio CD and a live CD, with the former offering four pieces of varying lengths and approaches. It begins with the 15-minute title track, a somewhat difficult-to-review piece that, depending on your circumstances and attention span, you may also find it a difficult listen. "A New York Minute" is composed of NYC weather forecasts, spliced one after another -- a curiosity, perhaps, but the question of why one would want to listen to this more than once will be left open, as I really don't know. The nearly 20-minute "Freaky Friday" features Licht on multi-tracked electric guitars and bass. Initially it's stressed-sounding tones, like controlled feedback, sometimes sounding somewhat like an accordian, or perhaps even a hurdy-gurdy. Later, clean picked notes come in, immediately giving the piece a more peaceful feeling. The heavy drone fades out, leaving a calmer, quieter bed of sound over which a delicate plucking ends up multitracked in a way not dissimilar to a mellower King Crimson. It's very pretty.

"Muhammed Ali & the Crickets" is a shorter, very strange piece that begins with a couple of minutes of crickets chirping, odd mechanical sounds, and a quiet voice muttering "bam bam". Then heavy distorted rhythm guitar and drums come in, followed by a loop of crowd chanting and distant wooden drumming in the background, all the while the crickets continue. At the end, it finally breaks down into just a recording of voices and simple percussion. The studio CD concludes with an older track, "Another Sky", from 1997, featuring Licht on chord organ. As might be expected, it's dronadelic, with slowly-shifting layers over its five-minute length.

The live CD is two long, extended pieces, both around 38 minutes long and featuring Licht alone on guitar at Experimental Intermedia in March of 2000. The first piece is "14, Second, Fifth," an eerie soundtrack of buzzing, rattling sounds and metallic string textures that reverberate and mingle, creating overtones like buzzing bees. Very hypnotic, especially over time, as the unending tolling sounds murmur on and on with an ever-shifting palette of tones coming and going over and under them. Towards the end, a repeating loop of plucked notes builds prettily.

As is warned in the CD liner notes, the first few minutes of "Remington Khan ("Hearing Test" mix/12-string version)" are pretty much inaudible. If you turn up the volume enough, you can barely hear some delicate notes chiming. It's an impressively clean recording, though it's honestly tempting to simply fast-forward until the piece becomes audible. As it gets louder, the piece resolves into repetitive clusters of notes overlaid in various shifting timings. The repeating motif is just a few notes that seem overly loud and too repetitive, though the other elements coming in and out are interesting enough. Shortly, though, a heavy, repeated strumming starts to take over, and things get louder and thicker. The strumming continues, hypnotically, varying in depth and heaviness, until about two-thirds of the way through, the song returns to a clear, calm place with the original repeating motif again. It remains quietly static for some time, until, approaching the end, distorted noises disturb the tranquility, what sound like pitch-shifted, synthetic sorts of tones. At the very end, the repeating motif dies down, leaving just the heavy, distorted rumblings to rattle and buzz to the end.

Ultimately, while I appreciate the experimentation of the studio disc, I found myself returning much more to the live guitar performances (though "Freaky Friday" is rather nice). I'm not sure whether that's because I'm a guitarist, or because the studio pieces feel like ideas better in theory than in practice. In any case, Licht's clearly imaginative and talented, and when it comes to the guitar, the live disc is an impressive example of an excellent combination of the two.

By Mason Jones

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