The planet of classical guitar is famously defined by a degree of rigidity and, telling it like it is, populated by a considerable number of characters respected – even adored – by the masses in the name of easily digestible acoustic products. In recent years, Edinburgh’s Simon Thacker has done his best to deliver the instrument from its proclivity to commonplace, all the while trying to retain the essence of its archetypal communicativeness. The man is an unwearied seeker pushed by a fervid enthusiasm for anything that really works inside a sonic process. And he is, to my knowledge, the lone academically trained plucker brave enough to exercise heaps of reversed nylon strings to produce an unorthodox pan-tonal tissue (see “Ruaigidh Dorchadas”, a literally reimagined song by Scottish poet Robert Burns, performed for this occasion by Karine Polwart).
Karmana is a set of pieces of miscellaneous origin conceived for sensitive interplay with cellist Justyna Jablonska, also featuring – besides the aforementioned Polwart – vocalist/violinist Masha Natanson and tabla player Sarvar Sabri in selected episodes. The album’s Sanskrit denomination evokes the power of transformation of sound. Many self-appointed researchers pretend to “deepen” this issue through farcical hypotheses of long-distance interconnection and therapeutic frequencies. In reality, very few seem to have a vague clue in regard to actual harmonic relationships (ask Glenn Branca for reference) and, in turn, their role as the core of practically everything we perceive, and ultimately are. This record offers one of several possible answers in a very direct way, namely via music created with passion and intuition (Thacker composed the material’s bulk starting from different tunings, some of them casually discovered) but still enhanced by a level of skill that leaves no door closed to a serene welcoming of the unforeseen.
Thacker and Jablonska are open-minded beings, their instrumental interaction benefiting enormously from this. An attentive scrutiny of the tracks reveals how the scores were rehearsed to a point of out-and-out perfection; at the same time we can enjoy the multifaceted visions of artists who constantly remain active, humble, willing and able to decode and render any suggestion that may come from the outside, be it a gaelic air or a modified raga structure. As per his customary attitude Thacker throws in hundreds of ideas, accents and influences, shaping a unique style informed by a laudable soberness in spite of genuinely amazing technical capabilities. It’s guitar wisdom at its finest. Jablonska – another classically educated specimen – enriches the partner’s sharpness with attractive profundity and equally impressive chops, her tone wonderfully pure but not overly religious. The duo shifts gears and perspectives with ease across numerous changes of atmosphere and light; the respective souls resonate effortlessly and sympathetically. Should you need a concrete illustration of what I’m talking about look no further than the magnificent “Ouroboros”, a tune that completely eschews rhetoric petulance to present the listener with a synthesis of intelligible difficulty and unadulterated poetry.
This reviewer’s first encounter with Thacker’s work occurred in 2013, with the rather brilliant Rakshasa. Having all potential defects been eliminated over a period of hard introspection, this new CD represents a decisive step towards the place where authentic greatness comes out naturally, without the necessity of wrecking one’s brain upon “understanding” something that is not honest to begin with.