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Old 01.19.2010, 03:43 PM   #1
Genteel Death
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In Edwin Pounceys review of A New Way To Pay Old Debts (The Wire 309), Bill Orcutts playing is compared to Cecil Taylor, Derek Bailey and Glenn Gould with evidence that is either highly specious or totally non-existent.

One of the most salient features of the album is the low C played on the open detuned sixth string of Orcutts guitar. Its hard to miss. He returns to this note every few seconds on every single track. There arent any other notes in that register on the album. Orcutt sticks to the C minor pentatonic scale for the majority of his licks on strings one, two and three (as you pointed out and one can observe from the video posted on The Wires webpage, Orcutt has removed strings four and five from his guitar). At the end of a list of guitar influences, you name Derek Bailey claiming that his influence echoes loudest here. No further explanation of this influence is given in your review, but lets examine what Derek Bailey has done for the guitar and see if we can find any similarities to Orcutt.

Bailey took Anton Weberns technique of constructing a single line of melody out of individual notes from several instruments of disparate timbres and applied it to the guitar. Rather than having access to a trumpet, clarinet and violin, for example, his timbre options were limited to fretted notes, open notes and harmonics. Bailey would pick a set of tri-chords and improvise on these three different options. Yes, theres more to Derek Baileys oeuvre than this, but this is Baileys most obvious contribution to the history of guitar playing. Bill Orcutt doesnt do anything resembling this. There arent any tri-chords. Orcutt sticks to a pentatonic scale. Theres no even distribution of pitches among fretted notes, open notes and harmonics on A New Way To Pay Old Debts. The only similarity I can find between Derek Bailey and Bill Orcutt is that they both play the guitar and that they both improvise.

Pouncey goes into a bit more depth in his comparison to Cecil Taylor. He says that there is a distinct keyboard element to Orcutts style, and that the influence can be plainly heard midway through Lip Rich, where the reverberating guitar strings against the pickup are strained to the point where they sound like Taylors stabbed piano keys. First of all, the middle of Lip Rich sounds like the rest of Lip Rich. Theres nothing Cecil Taylor-like about this section that can be plainly heard. It also sounds like every other track on the album with the exception of the last. Second, Id like you to name one Cecil Taylor album where he returns to the same pedal-point over and over again every few seconds throughout every piece.

Pouncey supports the idea that Glenn Gould is an influence on this album by pointing out that they both sing along with their instruments. You mention Gould in the headline, but this is the only connection to him you posit, and it is a superficial connection, if not a meaningless one. Lots of instrumentalists, classical and jazz alike, have recorded albums where their singing along is audible. Why not compare Orcutt to a jazz musician who sings along with the music? At least then theyre both improvisors. The comparison might be slightly more meaningful if it was made to another guitarist, but then it would undermine the equally tenuous and unsupported contention that Orcutts playing sounds like a keyboard.

As for the Gould quotation, No piano need feel duty-bound to always sound like a piano: the truth is that A New Way To Pay Old Debts does sound like a guitar album. Anyone who knows anything about the instrument will know that when they hear the omnipresent open low C that Orcutt returns to again and again like a crutch and the use of the C minor pentatonic scale. It doesnt sound anything like a piano, an instrument that doesnt have open or fretted strings and doesnt allow for that particular technical sleight of hand.
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