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Alvarius B. - Baroque Primitiva

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Artist: Alvarius B.

Album: Baroque Primitiva

Label: Abduction

Review date: May. 11, 2011

Nope, Alan Bishop hasn’t flipped out on Bach. If the cover is anything to go by, he’s got another definition of baroque in mind — per the American Heritage Dictionary, “architecture… typified by bold, curving forms.” Those who didn’t score the instantly out-of-print LP version of this album, which came out on Poon Village early in 2011, may not be able to frame that mandala of femininity and put it on their wall, but they shouldn’t feel too bad; the CD comes in a hardcover book with a couple dozen close-ups of the cover stars. I suspect that both the album art and the music within represent something that Bishop honestly finds quite beautiful, but both betray his readiness to get up a few noses.

Baroque Primitiva is the first Alvarius B. missive since Thanatos forcibly retired Bishop’s better-known combo, Sun City Girls. The upscale production values of the SCGs’ swan song Funeral Mariachi do not touch Baroque Primitiva. True to the title, this is a pretty basic affair, with Bishop accompanying his spectacularly elastic array of hoots, whinnies and coos with just an acoustic guitar and a cheap organ. John Barry’s “You Only Live Twice” sounds especially rough. The cassette deck motor that grinds through the song sounds just enough like a noisy projector to make you ask when you last heard the clatter that used to accompany the magic of film? But grief for who is gone and what will soon follow doesn’t have as much traction here as a nuanced nostalgia.

Nostalgia can be a comfort for people who don’t much like the world emerging around them, but Sun City Girls never liked consensus reality to begin with. Their gleefully offensive originals heaped scorn upon the mundanity around them, and their frequent flights of third world exotica illustrated their vision of a place and time that was definitely better than here. Baroque Primitiva’s three originals, cut with some assistance from long time fellow traveler Eyvind Kang, are a sop for people who miss the Girls. “Humor Police” is a piratical poke in the eye of the “you can’t say that” crowd; cut off his finger, says Bishop, and he’ll put his thumb up your ass. “3 Dead Girls,” with its buzzing guitar and lilting vocal melody, is a gorgeous back-porch counterpart to Torch of the Mystics. But the title doesn’t give you much hope that he’ll come back this way again anytime soon.

Most of the time, Bishop sounds like he’d rather be in an old movie. More than half of Baroque Primitiva originates from the prolific pen of “Maestro Padre Supremo,” a.k.a. Ennio Morricone. What a musician finds in Morricone generally tells you what they want to find when they look in the mirror. John Zorn found poly-genre perversity and Calexico the romance of dusty open spaces; Bishop is drawn to the hair-raising potential of the human voice, and to music’s potential to take you somewhere other than where you are. He has the rare set of pipes that can negotiate Morricone’s octave-spanning wordless melodies without shame, and he’s uninhibited enough to impart the implied dualities and complexities that make Morricone’s themes so indelible. You want femininity and masculinity rolled into one, or disconsolate longing dancing with ridiculously gleeful preening? Al’s your man. But the same dowsing rod that draws him to the freakiness embedded in Morricone’s oeuvre leads him to its poignancy; irreverent re-titlings aside, “Mussolini’s Exit” and “Face to Face with a Couple Axes” nail that walk into the sunset as the credits roll vibe so beautifully that you’ll stay in your seat until they’re done, and only then realize that the movie isn’t even playing.

But what he loves, he also seems to hate. The closer “God Only Knows” comes choked in Bollywood string flourishes and a maelstrom of tape loops that chip away at the chorus until God literally abandons the object of the singer’s adoration. You could call it a demolition job, but Bishop’s recreation of The Beach Boys’ harmonies is so spot on that there has to be love in it. I haven’t heard a cover tune so simultaneously aghast and in love with itself since the David S. Ware Quartet’s version of “The Way We Were,” and that was a two-man job, with Ware’s ennobling rendition of the schmaltzy melody countered by Matthew Shipp’s destruction of it. Bishop does it all by himself.

By Bill Meyer

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