Derek Bailey: To Play: The Blemish Sessions

Solo guitar albums are never more mesmerizing than when they're the product of Derek Bailey's unfettered imagination. To Play: The Blemish Sessions, the guitarist's 43-minute epitaph, actually came about serendipitously, as he originally recorded the material for David Sylvian's Blemish so that the singer might use portions of Bailey's recorded material for backing tracks. Recorded at South London's Moat Studios on February 18 2003, Bailey laid down eight pieces (six acoustic, two electric) in what would be his final studio date before succumbing to motor neurone disease at the age of 75 on Christmas Day 2005.

The robust and playful material teems with Spanish-style runs, spiky plucks, and playful webs of spidery runs. Cumulatively, they capture an irrepressibly inventive artist and a ferocious improviser. Wringing sounds from the guitar in every manner possible, Bailey bends notes here, scrapes them there, and builds them into tightly-coiled flurries everywhere. There's an unblemished quality to the recordings too, with Bailey's voice audible at the end many tracks, an effect that only enhances the release's intimate character. How remarkable it is, then, to hear him still determinedly rewriting the instrument's vocabulary and doggedly upending convention after so many decades of playing and recording. Though the label opted for a sober cover portrait, the innermost one showing a gleefully grinning Bailey would have been the better choice, given the immediacy with which it conveys the iconoclast's devilish spirit.

November 2006