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Gary Smith - Supertexture

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Artist: Gary Smith

Album: Supertexture

Label: Sijis

Review date: Jun. 13, 2007

Supertexture consists of two complementary CD’s. On the first, 13 Solo Guitar Improvisations, Gary Smith plays pieces ranging in length from just under two to just over five minutes. As ever with Smith, they were produced in real time with no edits, effects or overdubs. Initially daunting to some, over time Smith’s pieces reveal their underlying rhythms and structure. Nonetheless, with their density and use of extended playing techniques, the improvisations often resemble electronic compositions more than electric guitar. From them, one would be unlikely to guess that Smith’s own guitar heroes were Mick Hutchinson and Eric Clapton.

The second CD, Treatments and Interpretations, is what distinguishes this release from past solo works by Smith. On its 13 tracks, each song from the first CD is transformed by a different artist, two of whom have worked extensively with Smith before. So, the opening track, “Pear Tree Tomorrow” is by Bill Fay, with whom Gary Smith has worked since the late ’70s, when they produced the album Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. The song is typically moving, displaying Fay’s talent for imbuing seemingly mundane events with meaning and pathos. After an all too brief vocal intro, Fay uses the guitar as a focus and as partner to his own piano. The album closes with “Process/Recess” by Aufgehoben, the group Smith currently plays in most regularly. After a surprisingly subdued opening passage, it becomes a more typically Aufgehoben piece – bottom heavy, noisy and brutally compelling.

In between those bookends, Smith’s improvisations are transformed by such luminaries as Steve Roden, Elliott Sharp, Bernhard Günter and BJ Nilsen. As these are not duets involving interaction, but rather Smith’s pieces being employed as raw material, the contexts say more about those doing the transforming than about Smith; his guitar is in turns looped, treated, enhanced and occasionally barely audible.

One of the best tracks is “Apple Thief” by BJ Nilsen where the guitar is muted in Nilsen’s ambient soundscape; nonetheless, a full duo album would be an intriguing prospect. “Hyper-Garden (for Derek Bailey),” the track by Bernhard Günter, places Smith’s guitar firmly in the spotlight, relatively unaltered. On the evidence of this album, Smith may have Bailey’s own chameleon-like ability to play with musicians from a wide range of backgrounds, simultaneously remaining true to himself but also sounding radically different in different contexts.

While the first CD hangs together, the second one plays more like a compilation CD, such as one of the Wire Tapper series, affording an invaluable opportunity to sample a range of sounds and styles, but lacking the coherence of the first. As with any compilation, it is rather a tease, whetting the appetite but not delivering in full.

By John Eyles

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