DUCK BAKER – Outside

Emanem

During my deeply regretted years as an immature fingerpicker, Duck Baker was a fixture in a number of books full of transcriptions and tablatures purchased at the time. So the curiosity for this release was rather high, given that my relationship with Baker’s output had been almost completely erased after that period. Little did this writer know about the future collaborations with John Zorn and Eugene Chadbourne (two duets with the latter close this CD, and they’re surely nice to hear), plus a series of adventures that were just not predictable as the ears were being treated with renditions of Irish reels and ancient blues tunes.

Only a couple of minutes are needed to see the relation between the more convoluted aspects of Baker’s playing in his freer dimension and certain offbeat traits of those old homages to the fingerstyle tradition. As the record title in a way confirms, the man has always conceived the guitar as a means to walk “outside”. Sparkling harmonics and relaxing finesse have never belonged to his vocabulary, whereas spurious vibrations, popping notes and a general taste for civilized impurity are exactly what renders this music so human in its disobedience to the canons of politeness. Make no mistake, it takes a life to envisage the unconventional mini-orchestrations that can be enjoyed here. Duck was already at that level as a youngster.

Inharmonious angularity; versions of Ornette Coleman’s “Peace”; clusters that would cause arthritis to another player executed without thinking twice; gorgeous garlands of plucked tones enriching sensible melodies. And even a pair of incursions in the ambit of extended techniques, the instrument used as a polymorphic percussion with added strings to scratch and rub. Several of these tracks would not have been out of place on a “various artists” volume of Fred Frith’s Guitar Solos, albums that made me discover unsung heroes such as Hans Reichel. It was great to re-listen to one of my (involuntary) early teachers in this somewhat dismal New Year’s Eve. Once again, Emanem extracts some serious goods from the memory of nowhere.

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