AMN Reviews: Samo Salamon & Hasse Poulsen: String Dancers [s/r]; Samo Salamon & François Houle: Unobservable Mysteries [Afterday Audio]

Like many artists during the past year of isolation, Slovenian guitarist Samo Salamon managed to stay creative and maintain musical collaborations through a combination of ingenuity and technology. He took the initiative of contacting about three dozen guitarists throughout Europe to record a series of virtual duets, which he’s been releasing in three volumes; in addition, he recorded two full albums of duets with one other musician on each—String Dancers with guitarist Hasse Pousen, and Unobservable Mysteries with clarinetist François Houle.

String Dancers is an album of improvisations and compositions for acoustic guitars. Each guitarist sent the other his own compositions, to which the second overlaid a part. The album is a pleasure to listen to: the compositions are intricate and fully developed, not merely simple chord progressions to solo over, and the interplay between Salamon and Poulsen is tight and exciting, even though this appears to have been their first time working together. It’s a pairing that one hopes will continue, especially once it’s possible for them to share a stage.

Unobservable Mysteries represents another successful first-time collaboration for Salamon. For this twelve-track, fully improvised project, Salamon and Houle evenly split the taking the lead. For six of the tracks Salamon recorded improvisations on acoustic guitar and sent the recordings to Houle to complete with his own contributions; for the other six, the process was reversed. The combination of clarinet (and on one track, flute) and acoustic guitar opens up a soundworld of contrasts—of range and timbre, and especially of the fundamental opposition of the wind instrument’s legato lines and the plucked instrument’s staccato voice. This latter contrast comes out particularly well on improvisations where the two weave rapid lines around each other. Unobservable Mysteries ventures more into experimental territory than String Dancers (though the latter’s track Mind Fuel explores extended techniques), though on the more conventional tracks Salamon’s playing provides a complex, atmospheric setting for Houle’s melodies, which can be pastoral, plaintive, or more abstractly refracted from brief motifs.

Daniel Barbiero