Sir Richard Bishop - Oneiric Formulary Music Album Reviews

The acclaimed solo guitarist sets aside his beloved instrument for nearly half the tracks on his new album, seeking new routes to convey familiar moods. 

Sir Richard Bishop is one of the most riveting and dynamic acoustic guitarists on the planet, but he’s seldom seemed interested in the tropes of the solo guitar tradition. Since his 1998 debut on Revenant, John Fahey’s own label and a bastion of stylistic misfits, the Sun City Girls cofounder has indulged a deep restless streak, making records that nod toward his six-string contemporaries before racing off in a dozen directions. In the span of a few tracks, he might conjure the endless ecstasy of Munir Bashir, the cinematic elegance of Chet Atkins, and the spare beauty of Libba Cotten. The title of Polytheistic Fragments, his staggering 2007 Drag City album, still feels like a mission statement: Rather than subscribe to one belief system, Bishop has marshalled a more useful personal theology by borrowing a bit from everything he loves.

Given Bishop’s insatiable curiosity, an album like his new Oneiric Formulary was inevitable. On his first solo outing since 2015’s Tangier Sessions, a painstaking exploration of every sound he could wring from a mysteriously salvaged guitar, Bishop doesn’t actually pick up a guitar for nearly half these tracks. Instead, he chops samples into spooky sequences as though he were RZA’s wayward understudy for “Call to Order” and surrenders himself to a nearly nine-minute morass of maligned circuits like a half-asleep Yellow Swans for “Graveyard Wanderers.” Yes, Bishop takes the guitar on a few mesmerizing turns, alternately embracing frenetic strums and pleasant licks familiar from his past. But on an album inspired by the sounds and scenes of his dreams, Bishop finally seems tired of being confined to one instrument.

Of course, realizing Bishop isn’t here just to play guitar (or even piano, where his dizzying notes recall the puffy, cloudlike shapes of La Monte Young’s music) brings an initial twinge of disappointment. Imagine the letdown of going to see Michael Jordan man the outfield or paying handsomely to hear a member of Led Zeppelin plunge into microtonal improvisation. But even without the guitar, Bishop communicates his endearing sentimentality and his boundless instrumental ambitions. The dizzying pace and radiant tones of “Dust Devils”—a game approximation of frame drum and the strident Arabic mizmar, played with a MIDI keyboard—are as gripping as his most bristling Freak of Araby pieces. And his electronic lute lines for “Renaissance Nod” recall the contemplative pace of Bishop’s piano works: Same moods, different deliveries.

Still, when Bishop grabs the guitar, you remember what you were missing. During the “The Coming of the Rats,” he thumbs out a staccato acoustic strut while fluorescent electric drones pirouette in slow-motion. It’s eerie and gorgeous, like Robert Fripp scoring some dimly lit alley scene in a gangster movie. And on “Celerity,” Bishop’s heavy strums are so fast, angular, and agile it sounds like Aphex Twin sampled him and built the track one meter at a time. Bishop somehow fits notes inside of rests that don’t seem to exist—the effect is exhilarating, like a motivational speech crammed into four breathless minutes.

Bishop seems to understand it’s still reassuring to hear his particular sort of guitar mastery, where the emotions run as deep and free as the peerless technique. To wit, he ends the mid-album triptych of songs without guitar with “Enville,” a piece so brisk and resplendent it would be the standout on almost any record by the latest generation of solo acoustic guitarists. Aside from the introduction, it’s the shortest track here, so you might overlook it between the clangor of “Dust Devils” and the speed of “Black Sara.” But listen again to how cleanly Bishop plays and how many images he’s able to evoke in about two minutes. In one moment, I picture a tree-lined pasture, birdsong dancing at the edge of the field; in another, the quiet bliss of crossing a tedious item off a too-old to-do list. Hearing “Enville,” you get why Bishop might want to write beyond the guitar now—how can one instrument get more exquisite or evocative than this?
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Sir Richard Bishop - Oneiric Formulary Music Album Reviews Sir Richard Bishop - Oneiric Formulary Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, May 01, 2020 Rating:

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