Guitarist/composer Guillaume Gargaud of Le Havre, France, is a well-recorded artist, having appeared in some twenty-five recordings, including eight solo recordings. Guillaume frequently plays electric guitar enhanced by pedals and computer sound modification, but on Strange Memories, his new solo release, he limits himself to acoustic guitar. Gargaud’s fluency on acoustic guitar is well-documented; for example, just a year ago he played that instrument on Magic Intensity, a fine duet recording with pianist Burton Greene, who is himself a veteran of the avant-garde jazz world of the 1960s. The improvisations on Magic Intensity are free-floating but cohesive, a pattern that Gargaud continues to follow on Strange Memories. On this new recording Gargaud’s improvisations follow a free-associative logic that takes them through harmonic and melodic developments constrained only by the chromatic imagination. The music is by turns abstract and melodic; Gargaud’s playing is sharply-etched with the occasional garnish of some extended technique and scordatura and, on one track apparently, some hardly-there electronics.
The title of this release of solo music for acoustic guitar poses a question, and one that turns out to be more complex than it first appears. On the face of it, what it is is a single instrument, but the farther-reaching answer guitarist Tellef Øgrim gives in his program note is, “a means to connect.” Øgrim, a Norwegian who often plays fretless guitars, sees the apparent simplicity of the lone, unaugmented acoustic instrument as in fact harboring a complex richness of expression and sound that can communicate in as unmediated a way as is possible with an attentive listener.
For this recording, an EP-length collection of eight brief pieces, Øgrim used two guitars with subtly different voices. One, a Martin he acquired after it apparently was abandoned while being repaired, has a deeply resonant voice; the second, a smaller guitar of obscure origins, has a less ringing sound. It’s probably the latter guitar that opens the recording with a gentle, though slightly dissonant, chord sequence pivoting on minor seconds; the agitated, staccato piece that follows has a ringing sound that most likely is the Martin’s. With these as with each of the other pieces, Øgrim keeps focused on a single stylistic trope. These range from the folk-like melodies and arpreggios of P.O. through the rock rhythms and chords of Bestum Plesvark, to the free chromaticism of Horse. It’s a well-recorded set that succeeds in offering challenging substance in an intimate atmosphere.