Playing guitar is a singularly rewarding experience. I have been playing for about 25 years and still find myself surprised and intrigued. Guitar playing has opened up doors for me that would have remained closed otherwise. Due to its’ universality and portability, it lends itself to interaction. Even when I’ve been as removed as possible from any common language or cultural bond the guitar has allowed me to make friends in Africa, Italy and Mexico. As with most guitarists, I started out with the standard tuning. Along the way I’ve found the possibilities and mystery available in deviating from this. Exploring alternate tunings such as open G and B increases ones musical palette and vocabulary. Not only can you discover the modal delights underpinning the Blues, you can transcend them. Combining these tunings with a slide can send you back to ancient Egypt or deep into rural Appalachia. A guitarist who has obviously dug deep into these modes is Ben Chasney. Chasney plays in various groups (Comets on Fire, Current 93, etc.) but his main vehicle is the always excellent Six Organs of Admittance. It is under this banner that he has released the best album of last year, “The School of the Flower” and the best thing I’ve heard so far this year, “The Sun Awakens” (Drag City).
This album is simply a masterpiece. It seems to have dropped fully formed from the ether without needing further embellishment or being overdone. The melodies bubble forth with compelling strength. They have a round-edged sound that allows them to enter deep into you mind where they joyously unfold. Each of the pieces on this album are solid representations of tone mastery and melodic mystery. There are a few precedents. John Fahey and Leo Kottke come to mind first. But Ben Chasney never allows the technical aspects overpower the music or get in the way of the magic. There are vocals on a few of the tracks (supplied by Chasney. Om’s Al Cisneros and Current 93’s David Tibet) and they are used to great effect. The vocals call to mind chants or the plaintive wailing’s of Jewish prayer or Medieval Troubadours. There is a longing and wistfulness I hear in this music. Despite any outside influence, this is American music. Specifically Californian music. I hear the Redwood forests near Santa Cruz and the long golden light of coastal San Simeon coming through. At times flashes of Ennio Moricone descend and in these echoes you can picture Clint Eastwood drawing his gun from underneath his poncho and fanning the hammer.
The biggest shock of the set is the 25 minute, “River of Transfiguration”. On this song Chasney drops all attempts to build his steeplechase architecture of guitar lines and lets the ambiance surge to the foreground. Some music overpowers you with its presence and force. This song is perhaps the opposite of that. There is space in this piece for the listener. This space allows one room to think and breathe. The mind id set free to either truly contemplate the various aspects of the music or simply to daydream. This is not to imply even a hint of laziness. There is an underlying desert of tension that never allows this music to fade into the background.
Ben Chasney is to be commended for continuing to make compelling and complex music. His sense of melody and mastery of tone are a gift to us all. This is music not only to be taken in by the first five organs of admittance, but to be savored by the sixth, the mind.