Klimek: Dedications

I'll confess that I approached Klimek's Dedications with some mild degree of trepidation because, as much as I admired Sebastian Meissner's past Klimek recordings Milk & Honey and Music To Fall Asleep (both on Kompakt), I couldn't help but feel he was on the verge of painting himself into a stylistic corner. In short, the distinctive Klimek style—panoramic vistas of shuddering guitars—seemed in danger of settling into a too-limiting signature. How pleasing to discover, then, that Dedications finds Meissner (also known for recordings under the Random_Inc and Bizz Circuits monikers) reinvigorating the Klimek style by dramatically broadening its scope on this discernibly more personal and intimate album (four years in the making, apparently). Some of the reason for that can be attributed to Dedications' concept, with each track's style influenced in part by the two figures Meissner chooses to honour in each case, all of whom resonate significantly in his world for one reason or another, musical or otherwise. The challenge isn't necessarily in identifying the honourees (they're explicitly cited in the track titles) but in sussing out the correspondence between a particular track's content and style and the figures with which it's associated. Ultimately, of course, that's a bit of a parlor game because, at day's end, the music succeeds or fails on its own terms.

That expansiveness is immediately apparent in the first piece, “For Jim Hall & Kurt Kirkwood” (dedicated to the influential jazz guitarist and Meat Puppets' member), when delicately strummed guitar chords and jazz picking resound in slow motion, and in “For Ezekiel Honig & Young (Pan) Americans,” where Meissner draws upon several of Honig's Scattered Practices pieces. “For Michael Gira & Vladimir Ivanovich,” dedicated to the one-time Swans leader and the Russian ship worker, incorporates ship-related field sounds and—surprisingly—guitar playing by Bill Frisell. Also surprisingly, “For Eugene Chadborne & Henry Kaiser” honours the experimental spirit of the two guitarists in its bold design, yet ends with a becalmed piano outro. Oud-like plucks stutter throughout “For Zofia Klimek & Gregory Crewdson” (dedicated to Meissner's grandmother and the photographer), imbuing it with a mysterious and brooding Arabic character. Likewise, “For Said Murad & Mazen Kerbaj” exudes an exotic Middle Eastern character in keeping with the titular Palestinian instrumentalist and Lebanese trumpeter. That a funereal mood permeates some of the material, including the drone-like “For Marvin Gaye & Russell Jones,” shouldn't surprise, given that both figures died prematurely: the former was gunned down by his father and rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard (Wu-Tang Clan) dropped dead in a recording studio at the age of thirty-five. Also entrancing is “For Mark Hollis & Giacinto Scelsi,” a tribute to the Talk Talk member and classical composer respectively, which elongates a blurry piano chord until it vanishes inside a vaporous mass of fog and shudder. The deeply meditative space sculpted in the string-heavy “For Steven Spielberg & Azza El-Hassan” (US- and Palestine-based film-makers) ends the album on a Requiem-like note.

“For Martin Duffy & Charles Mingus” (Primal Scream keyboardist and jazz titan) opens the EP with a lovely ballad-like setting where slivers of processed guitar and piano bleed into one another. Dedications' stylistic range is not so extreme, however, that it literally matches the extremes associated with its dedicatees. Though “For Grant Hart & Bob Mould” pays tribute to the two former Hüsker Dü band-mates, the piece isn't a punk rave-up but an elegant folk-styled meditation. Recorded live at Kastanienallee 40, Berlin in June 2006, “For Lia & Jim Corrigan - The Smartest Kid on Earth” (which references Chris Ware's “graphic novel” character) merges field recordings with hazy piano playing; how telling that Meissner's project closes with sounds of piano and the outdoors, both of which signify expansion upon the Klimek sound that preceded Dedications. Admittedly, the trademark shudder occasionally surfaces—during “For Ezekiel Honig & Young (Pan) Americans” and “For Eugene Chadborne & Henry Kaiser,” to name two instances—but the sound is now just one sonic device of many; if anything, in this context it acts as a unifying leitmotif that connects one disparate piece to another.

Meissner succeeds in maintaining the delicate balance between individual pieces and the project as a whole since, despite the sometimes extreme sonic differences that emerge between the pieces, the album, bolstered by its conceptual thread, holds together well. Of course, no amount of theoretical background will compensate for inferior musical results but there's no cause to worry on that score; Dedications stands up as the most satisfying Klimek release to date, and maintains the high batting average established by Anticipate's first three albums.

January 2008