Oren Ambarchi: Grapes From The Estate

Ambarchi's third solo outing on Touch is a solo affair in the truest sense of the word. Aside from some strings contributions by Veren Grigorov and Peter Hollo on “Remedios The Beauty,” Ambarchi plays all other instruments—organ, drums, piano, and, of course, guitars—himself. Conventional instrumentation doesn't mean conventional sound, however, as he often recasts his guitar sound to a point where it loses whatever recognizable qualities it typically has. Listeners familiar with the previous works Insulation (1999) and Suspension (2001) will know that anyone expecting raw feedback or solo pyrotechnics should look elsewhere as Ambarchi is uninterested in such familiar, clichéd approaches to the guitar. Instead he uses the instrument impressionistically to generate sonic fields that slowly mass and evolve.

The album's comprised of four long tracks, the first two in the ten-minute range and the latter two fifteen and twenty minutes respectively. The mood is established at the outset by “Corkscrew,” a meditative piece that builds slowly, its ambient tones seemingly awakening from slumber to gradually overlap, with starbursts popping faintly in the background. More expansive is “Girl with the Silver Eyes” whose wayward tones, organ, and delicate guitar filigrees resound amidst a relaxed base of drum brushes. “Remedios the Beauty” veers closest to conventional narrative structure, with a delineable progression that unfolds naturally. Its opening array of clicking, flickering tones gradually settles into hypnotically repeating patterns. Midway through, the piece opens up with the addition of tuned bells and string textures, and then turns propulsive, even slightly funky, with animated drum patterns, moody piano accents, and acoustic guitar strums. The last track, “Stars Aligned, Web Spun,” appeared already under the title “Stacte.4B Ver.2” on the Tigerbeat6 compilation Goodnight: Music To Sleep By but it fits comfortably alongside the other pieces even though, generated solely by guitar, it's more extremely ambient in character.

While the music is abstract in its disavowal of conventional melody, whatever off-putting associations the term might possess hardly apply in this case as the mood throughout is bucolic and the style thoroughly accessible. Not all of Ambarchi's recorded appearances are so becalmed, however, as his drumming stint with the Australian free noise group Phlegm shows, an experience that seems light years removed from the restrained artistry on display here. Like the idyllic outdoor photographs by Jon Wozencroft that adorn the album packaging, Grapes From The Estate offers an inviting space that's peaceful and intimate.

August 2004