San Francisco Bay Area-based guitarist Henry Kaiser has a decades-spanning musical career, known as a restless sonic wanderer and one of the forefathers of American free improv guitar. Taking early inspiration from unconventional guitarist Derek Bailey and Captain Beefheart, Kaiser has covered a vast amount of territory, both musically and physically, recording in places like Madagascar, Burma, and even Antarctica (documented in a Werner Herzog film); tying his diverse music together, whether crafting his own inventive pieces or paying tribute to acts such as Miles Davis and The Grateful Dead, Kaiser plays with impeccable precision, curiosity, and a sense of purpose.
His new CD, Everything Forever, is comprised of one 80-minute long “live trance” improvised guitar solo recorded in a single take without overdubs. The idea may be a daunting one, but as expected from Kaiser, he stays moving with enough ideas to propel the album. To free improv aficionados, what might be surprising isn’t what he uses but what he doesn’t use to hold the listener’s attention; no wild or oddball extended techniques are employed—a few crystalline harmonics are about the extent of it—and Kaiser doesn’t even do string bends or vibrato. Most of the tones are clean, clear notes played on his Fender Stratocaster, with occasional glides, taking no apparent inspiration from a particular source and following no genre. Kaiser uses Lexicon stereo delay units, so that after a passage is heard in the center channel, it is repeated once in the left channel and soon after also in the right channel, and throughout the piece, Kaiser manages to adeptly sustain distinct bass and treble counterpoint.
Eighty minutes is certainly a time commitment, and listeners who expect dramatic gestures or some kind of grand finale will not get them, although the album is not totally free of crests and dips. The meditative meanderings of Everything Forever demonstrate that for a seasoned traveler like Kaiser, it’s the journey and not necessarily the destination that is key.
This May Be My Last Time Singing
Obsessive record collectors surely find parts of the films High Fidelity and Ghost World to ring true—in particular, the latter’s scene with 78 collector Seymour bemoaning the fact that calypso bandleader Lionel Belasco’s astounding work is unrecognized today. There’s a unique kind of joy in uncovering obscure and neglected gems, and there’s a certain archival philosophy that taps into this, striving not to make “greatest hits” compilations but instead, “greatest should-have-been hits” collections. Harry Smith assembled his iconic and influential Anthology of American Folk Music by choosing tracks because of their peculiarity instead of popularity, and Mike McGonigal covered a mind-bogglingly diverse array of post-war gospel on his outstanding Fire in My Bones collection in 2009. Following that set comes McGonigal’s This May Be My Last Time Singing, a 3-CD trove of “raw African-American gospel” culled from obscure 7” singles that were self-released or from regional labels.
Fire in My Bones is a tough act to follow, but This May Be My Last Time Singing matches it in quality, with every single track having distinctive qualities that lead the listener to understand why it stood apart from the hundreds of uninteresting obscure singles in McGonigal’s collection that didn’t pass muster.
The collection, with annotations for every song, centers on the ’60s and ’70s, apparent at times with soul, pop, and funk influences manifested in organ vamps, electric guitar licks, or funky beats, but classic gospel call-and-response exchanges are plentiful, as well. Spirited and moving, these singers are clearly singing their hearts out, with an animated, unfettered vitality not commonly heard on slick studio productions.
One tidbit sums it up—the liner notes point out that the slogan for the Bible Days Revival Church, which delivers the stirring “Supernatural Prayer” with a rowdy congregation shouting behind the pastor’s hypnotic vocal cadence, is “The church that’s different.” With affecting, memorable, and sometimes rough and low-fidelity recordings, the tracks on this set are certainly different but no less reverent.