Å

Å by Steve TibbettsKnut Hamre and Steve Tibbetts

…The process of crossing over, culturally, from West to East can be a journey fraught with peril, or at least questionable intent and results. But when it works, when musical ideas from disparate places find a common ground, the results can be truly ear-opening. Such successful mergers can exemplify the truism – verging on cliche – that music is the only genuine universal language.

That idea springs to mind while listening to the latest project from the category-defying, tone poet guitarist Steve Tibbetts, who has teamed up with Norwegian hardanger fiddler Knut Hamre for an intriguing and impressionistic set. The recording called Å is a lateral follow-up to Tibbetts’ cross-cultural rendezvous from 1996, on which the guitarist found paths of emotional resonance with Tibetan nun Chöying Drolma. The cultural turf is different here, of course, but the hardanger fiddle tradition – with the beguiling drone of its sympathetic strings beneath the melodic strings – shares with Tibetan chant a modal, meditative character that Tibbetts complements nicely.

No great change occurs to the signature approach heard on Tibbetts’ discography so far, with atmospheric-yet-engaging brushwork on electric and acoustic guitars. His is a paradoxical style: in Tibbetts’ soundscapes, nothing is sharp, but nothing vague. On the new recording, done in a suitably reverberant church in Norway, long-time percussionist-collaborator Marc Anderson and bassist Anthony Cox add to the mix, but the real point of focus is on Hamre’s haunting hardanger fiddling. The instrument’s unique sound, underscored by the droning timbral swirl of sympathetic strings, speaks in a dialect all its own. -Jazz Times

With the release of Ł, Madison-bred Steve Tibbetts reconfirms his special talent for merging traditional music with his own ambient approach to guitar. Here the traditional collaborator is Norwegian musician Knut Hamre, whose plaintive work on the hardingfele, a fiddle equipped with sympathetic drone strings, is both moving and mysterious.

As with Chö, Tibbetts’ deft collaboration with Buddhist nuns,  is less a world-music disc than an exploration of the musical interstices between disparate traditions. Instead of dominating the proceedings, Tibbetts’ guitar is generally employed as a gauzy foil for Hamre’s strange, cyclical fiddling. (Ethereal vocalist Turid Spildo also contributes hardingfele on several cuts.) Similarly, longtime Tibbetts percussionist Marc Anderson offers accents and and occasional elemental pulse instead of the lock-step dance beats normally associated with global hybrids. In other words, while this is still very much the guitarist’s disc, he gives his Scandinavian collaborator the task of developing the emotional core of each track. In some ways,  is really an extension of Northern Song, Tibbetts’ Norwegian-oriented debut for ECM; however, Hamre’s dissonant playing adds a kind of surreal dimension to the disc that really has more to do with the spiritual colors conjured by the utterly different Chö.

Once again, Tibbetts has shown that the exposure of geographically isolated traditions doesn’t have to be exploitative or blandly commercial. Given the chance to hear it, a broad swath of the “alternative” audience would surely be mesmerized by his shamanistic magic. -Isthmus