Downbeat 5-Star Review: Life Of

Steve Tibbetts
Life Of · ECM 2599
*****

Review by J. D. Considine, Downbeat Magazine

Because there’s so much atmosphere in music-the reverb-laden guitar, ghostly piano chords, quiet washes of percussion–it can be easy to assume that atmo­sphere is all he’s got. After all, the guitarist is not one for big, brash melodies or deeply funky grooves, nor do his tunes offer anything like the easily decoded structure of pop songcraft. And when the narrative is hard to follow, it’s all too tempting to assume there isn’t one at all.

With Life Of, his 10th solo album, Tibbetts makes it easier to follow the thread by presenting a series of sonic portraits, each one offered as a “Life Of.” It’s not storytelling in any con­ventional sense, but it does lend a certain speci­ficity to the mood and vocabulary of each piece.

“Life Of Emily,” for example, opens with Tibbetts playing in a sliding, vocalized style that, along with Marc Anderson’s hand percus­sion, evokes the sound of Indian classical music. But about 13 seconds in, the drone beneath those soothingly serpentine lines drops a minor third, and the mood shifts. Although Tibbetts continues to play slippery, string-bending filigrees, the rhythmic pulse quietly has become more insistent. It’s drama, but of a sort so subtle it easily can be missed without close listening.

Pay close attention, though, and Life Of reveals a world of sonic surprises. With “Life Of Mir,” it’s relentlessly shifting harmony and splashes of Michelle Kinney’s cello; with “Life Of Dot,” it’s harmonics pulled from bent strings to give each note unique flavor; with “Life Of Alice,” it’s the intertwining rhythms of finger-picked guitar, sampled gamelan and piano. It might be less than an hour long, but Life Of will provide years of deep and reward­ing listening. -J.D. Considine

Life Of by Steve Tibbetts