Calculus haters, mop your fevered brows. While the title of Paul Metzger’s latest opus implies that he is somehow delivering a musical rendering of a mathematical text, it’s really all about the banjo and his latest ideas about what to do with it. Metzger’s relationship with his instruments is an evolving one. Originally a Duck Baker-inspired fingerstyle guitarist who decided to play rock and roll after seeing the Replacements on local television and ended up being a local guitar hero in the combo TVBC, Metzger’s solo music grew out of an extended period of woodshedding and instrument modification. His banjo currently sports 23 strings rather than the usual 4 or 5, and he’s more likely to make it sound like a sarangi than anything you’d hear at a bluegrass festival.
Metzger recorded this splendid 39 minute long performance live in an old cathedral in Duluth, Minnesota that has been repurposed as a performing arts center so you could also say that it’s about the space in which the music went down. Sacred Heart Music Center’s particularly reverberant acoustics add some welcome resonance to Metzger’s tart single note progressions and occasional sweeps across the strings, so that the music seems suffused with an ember-like glow. While retaining the raga-like qualities of pacing and emotional impact that have been constants in Metzger’s music since he debuted his solo work in 2002, “Plays The Uses Of Infinity” is slower and more spacious than the hurtling performances on Paul Metzger or Deliverance. If those records were like bobsled rides down an icy run, this is more like a vigorous but winding stride along a forest path that hasn’t been cleared in a while. Nothing stops him, but Metzger takes more time working around his figures and occasionally permits them to hang, suspended and turning, for a moment’s regard. Whether Metzger is clearing out a space that only he can occupy remains to be seen; he is, after all, the only guy playing instruments that look like this. But even if he is pursuing a Harry Partch-like path that no one else can follow, the differences between this record and the ones that have come before suggest that like Partch, he can profitably spend a lifetime tracing it.