Tangier Session is the last SOLO record realized by Sir Richard Bishop, American guitarist, improviser, composer, founding member of the band Sun City Girls. Listening to his latest, excellent, recording effort produced by the indie label Drag City, it’s the opportunity to talk about his music and his guitar style, listening again to a couple of his older records.
Let’s start with Improvika, cd released in 2004 for the Locust Music, his second job after Salvador Dali, produced in 1998 for the Revanant Records of John Fahey. This record consists of nine songs entirely instrumental (Bishop never sings), nine songs based on improvisation, element closely characterizing the style of our guitarist. Improvika already defines the style of our man: extremely smart improvisations based on modal structures that fully draw on the African American blues, Indian and the Arabian music. We are read in this record Bishop’s Lebanese origin and the extensive use of open tunings. It ‘a good record that indicates to the world the presence of a new guitarist characterized by a very personal and unique style but, at the same time, fully embedded in the tradition of Basho and Fahey.
While My Guitar Violently Bleeds is realized in 2007 for Locust, and has a character very different from Improvika, here we have three songs from the largest structure for electric and acoustic guitar characterized not only by the modal improvisations but also by loops, drones and various noises. It’s a quantum leap towards a more contemporary and avant-garde style that, however well integrated with previous plays: his guitar not only bleeds violently, but also snarls and gnashes his teeth sliding on sharp ropes, not an easy record: experimentation here becomes more daring and atonality is a constant.
And then we get the last effort: Tangier Session, released this year by Drag City. The sounds here are closer to Improvika, but they are more mature, it’s been more than ten years and these two albums testify to the significant progress made by Bishop in enriching his vocabulary and musical lexicon.
At the same time this record is also something more: it is a kind of love story between a man and his instrument, between a musician and his guitar. Something that arises between an X-File story and Amarcord movie by Fellini. In the course of his wanderings through the world, in Genoa, Italian seaport, Bishop found this guitar, an instrument definitely vintage in a small shop lost in the small streets of this city, he falled in love with her, he bought it and carried with him up to Tangier in Morocco, where in the quiet solitude of a local house he could find peace, concentration and inspiration to create the music that he recorded, casting rudimentary instruments, for this new album. From the fingers and plectrum Bishop gets a warm and the same time pure sound, clean, clear and so beautiful to listen, by the encounter with this instrument, that we only know that was made nearly a century ago and had been sold by a distributor of Georgia, such C. Brown & Sons, he creates songs that are the result of his continuous hybridization between music of the Middle East, flamenco, gypsy music, American folk, classical, jazz, etc. For him, to mix uncommon styles and musical backgrounds pursued outside “normal” tourist routes has become a real lifestyle. He was a founding member of the Sun City Girls, a trio that managed to carve a real journey through the world stage by creating, through improvisation, a continuous border between rock, jazz, world, punk and experimental music in a form encompassing captured 50 albums, cassettes and videos of concerts for over 26 years, starting in 1979. Mixing their legendary performance with constant references to mysticism, religion, UFOs, ritualism and the Kabuki theater … reflecting their uninhibited musical range.
I personally think that with Tangier Session Bishop was able to raise a little more the quality of his recordings, reaching and matching the high intensity and the creative “stream of consciousness” that he always managed to give off in his concerts . One of the best albums of 2015.