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James Blackshaw - The Cloud of Unknowing (Tompkins Square)

9 June 2007

There are so many levels on which to appreciate the music of JAMES BLACKSHAW. For guitarists, there’s the sheer how-does-he-do-it of his dazzling technique, used to produce three simultaneous textural layers with three distinct sounds. For aficionados, there’s the cultural satisfaction of hearing him tie together so many schools of playing – Fahey, Bull, Basho. And for all of us unabashed sensualists, there’s the voluptuous pleasure of his rich, tintinnabulatory sound slowly weaving a beautiful sonic tapestry that’s sometimes ethereal, sometimes rootsy.

On record he gets to occasionally add even more sonic variety – cymbal and glockenspiel, cello – to make the sound even fuller. On the four lengthy tracks, the effect is both hypnotic and transcendent. For variety, halfway through there’s the brief “Clouds Collapse,” a sparely constructed array of plucks and plinks that achieves a Zen-like intense focus on pure sound, the perfect palate cleanser. The album ends with five minutes of quietly noisy, blissfully atonal scratchings, as though Blackshaw and his listeners have ascended into a higher realm of sound. Quite a trip.


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