Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gary Lucas, Cinefantastique

There is so much to say about Gary Lucas and his new album Cinefantastique (Northern Spy 043) that I scarcely know where to start. So I'll just start. Solo Gary Lucas guitar is such an entity unto itself that there is really nothing that compares. He has over the years developed his very own sounds, plural, that make him instantly recognizable and at this point inimitable.

There of course is the electric Gary, with Strat and effects pedals playing live in orchestral magnificence. There is Gary on his old Gibson acoustic. And there is Gary on dobro. In each case it isn't just what he plays but how he sounds. I won't pretend I know exactly how he does it--but through a combination of the strings he uses, his tunings, his attack, his use of harmonics and such he gets an extraordinarily bright, wiry tone on the Gibson (and the dobro), a wonderfully singing tone on the Strat. And of course you can hear all of that most vividly on Cinefantastique.

This is about that and it also is about Gary's love of film. He has chosen for this album themes from movies both iconic, known, less known, and otherwise very idiomatic to Gary's all-embracing musicality. Some of his now well-known guitar soundtracks for classic silent films are nicely touched upon, with J'accuse, Spanish Dracula, and 20 minutes of Etr'acte. These are excellent examples of the self-inventing Gary. But then all of this is.

Because whatever the context or theme, his own sensibility is out front, paradigmatically so. "Bali Ha'i" from South Pacific has unforgettable voicings and string accentuations of the implicit melodic-harmonic implications. So too the tuning and playing on "Our Love is Here to Stay" (from An American in Paris) has virtually a recomposition going for it in the bluesy country picking he has created, the tuning which gives him some really hip out and in qualities, plus a harmonic so well-placed that it puts everything together.

Part of this is like John Fahey's famous holiday season arrangements for acoustic. Only better. Better because Gary has the ears to make the tunings work completely and utterly--and because it has more imagination going on, much as I love Fahey.

I must mention some of the amazing electric work--on for example "Vertigo/Psycho" (Alfred's tribute) and "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (Herzog's masterpiece). It is a translation of the original music to what Gary does with the etherial pedal effects, the driving electricity, the eerie space notes and chords. These are arrangements he's refined and worked over for years and they sound sooo good.

Finally two things. One is the Guaraldi "Charlie Brown" theme. Gary translates the melody-harmony to open tuning and virtually reworks the music so that you still recognize it but it plays that much more brilliantly as it lays out on the open-tuned, finger-picked acoustic.

I conclude with an example of Gary's famous neo-quasi-all-over-again synchronicity that I am constantly experiencing with him. I jokingly said several weeks ago in a review of harp concertos on the classical blog that I love the harp so much I would even like the "Howdy Doody" theme song if it were played on the instrument. Well, so here is Gary playing it--goofing around, but playing a brilliant thirty seconds on the dobro. So I was wrong in a way--it was Gary who could make an arrangement of just about anything and it would sound great. No of course this isn't some psychic kismet--but just an example of how he has taken in the music of our times and reworked it all.

And one thing (as Nixon used to say) that you should make no mistake about. Nixon didn't have Maestro Lucas in mind, but make no mistake about this: Cinefantastique is landmark music--landmark playing, landmark musical thinking. It's a guitar solo landmark, no kidding! Make no mistake about that.

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