Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Anyone who saw the extraordinary Noura Mint Seymali from Mauritania at Womad Taranaki in 2018 couldn't help but be impressed by her husband on guitar whose playing was fluid, mercurial, seemingly effortless and shapeshifting of melodies and chords.
Unfortunately that playing by Jeiche Ould Chigaly was only hinted at on the album Arbina . . . but his name alone made such a deep impression that when it crops up you pay attention.
As you do to this exceptional album by a small group around percussion player Rick Brown and guitarist Che Chen who took lessons in Mauritania in 2013 from . . . yes, the great Jeiche Ould Chigaly.
That style of spiritual flight and an almost levitational emotional uplift is one of the elements at play on I Was Real – on CD or a double vinyl with a download code – which also taps ancient blues, drone and psychedelic desert blues . . . but comes up with something unique right from the opening track, the 11 minute head-trip Every Last Coffee or Tea which is so out there and full of forward momentum it could also be an avant-garde piece out of downtown New York City in the Eighties (which, not so coincidentally, is where they live).
The three minute revision/version which follows is a spiritual cousin to Fred Frith as much as a psychedelic hurdy-gurdy which has backwards guitar passages.
But you pigeonhole them at your peril because Tetuzi Akiyama sounds like a track you might hear on a Fat Possum album by the likes of T-Model Ford, Junior Kimbrough or RL Burnside . . . if they been brought up by Tamikrest, Terakaft or any of the new generation of desert blues artists out of Mali.
With viola – which also explains why some have said this is like early Velvet Underground in a tent in the Sahara – and Chen's 12-string channeling some of that study he undertook with Chigaly alongside contrabass viol on the hypnotic, leisurely 17 minute title track, that drone and hypnotic quality creates an internal logic of its own as Brown hold the beat on a plywood crate.
It's also a bit like eavesdropping on a secret ceremony in the Atlas Mountains.
Those strings – violin, viola – with saxophones drive WZN3 verso like some free jazz piece and the closer WZN#3 sees Chen more fully exploring the music and guitar style of Chigaly in what, in this context, is perhaps their most musically conservative piece.
Elsewhere there's the bluesy There's No Such Thing as a King Bee (which references Slim Harpo's I'm A King Bee) sounding like it is coming at you down a frayed wire from a tin can, and a suite of three short pieces which takes off from the same premise as WZN#3 and then goes utterly elsewhere into lo-fi Velvet Underground over the nagging drone and on to ambience and beyond into raw blues (that closing section might just be surplus to requirements however).
Recorded in various New York locations, mostly at former Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone's Brooklyn studio (where Arbina was also recorded), I Was Real is the third album by 75 Dollar Bill and will probably have you seeking out ther first two (they are on Spotify)
75 Dollar Bill come at you from all kinds of interesting angles . . . but if the idea of an instrumental album which prods, provokes, seduces and sedates, and has reference points everywhere from avant-garde and VU to West Africa and the South sounds even vaguely interesting, then I Was Real is certainly for you.
Essential Elsewhere music, beyond question.