In addition to a host of other activities, Henry Kaiser is renowned as a member of the so-called second generation of American free improvisers, with a discography stretching back to the 70’s that is peppered with guitar collaborations. His 2017 album Friends and Heroes — Guitar Duets contains tracks dating back decades, with names from both sides of the Atlantic such as Derek Bailey, Eugene Chadbourne, Bill Frisell, Fred Frith, Jim O’Rourke and John Russell. In contrast to Kaiser, Ed Pettersen came to improvised music comparatively late; before that, his own particular areas of expertise included song-writing (including compositions on albums by Candi Staton and Bettye LaVette), performing, arranging and producing in folk and alt-rock, leading to occasional comparisons with Springsteen. But now, Pettersen can be added to the distinguished list above.
We Call All Times Soon consists of four freely-improvised guitar duets, each one lasting between ten and eleven minutes, on which Kaiser plays his eighteen-string harp guitar and Pettersen his eight-string Weissenborn guitar. Whatever sounds, or expectations, two guitars together conjure up, the reality of the music here is likely to be radically different. While both guitars can be heard most of the time, there is far more sound here than is usually produced by two guitars alone. Straight from the beginning of the opening track, “Cosmotron Expressway”, before the guitars enter, we are in a soundscape that fits the track title, one redolent of psychedelia, deep space or electronic manipulation. Once the guitars come in, there is plenty of metallic slide and picked phrases but overall the track is light years away from two old boys sitting on the back-porch trading licks.
The track titles seem significant here; all four are jokily space-age, in the manner of Futurama, the others being “Diving Seacopter”, “Triphibian Atomicar” and “Repelatron Skyway”. It seems that Kaiser and Pettersen decided to challenge listeners’ preconceptions of a guitar-duet album, a point reinforced via the album’s exotic cover art by Kaiser’s partner, Brandy Gale. The four tracks are distinctly different from one another, each having its own unique palette of sounds, but their common characteristics demonstrate that they were all created by the same team using the same methodology; consequently, the album hangs together well and works as a coherent whole that repays repeated listening, revealing fresh facets every time. To their credit, Kaiser and Pettersen have not targeted this album at any existing niche market but have been guided by their well-developed instincts to produce innovative music that is certain to appeal to aficionados of a broad range of genres — improv, rock, folk, psychedelia, electronica…. And then some.
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