Pete Oxley & Nicolas Meier: Chasing Tales
XaDu: Random Abstract
Arriving three years after the duo's first album, the live recording Travels To The West, Chasing Tales reunites guitar virtuosos Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier for a twelve-song studio-based collaboration. Many roads have been traveled by these seasoned players, with each having issued a number of solo albums and played in multiple contexts; Meier, for example, is a current member of Jeff Beck's band and both play in Eclectica!, an outfit featuring jazz and classical musicians.
Being a studio album, Chasing Tales affords the two ample opportunity to create elaborately arranged tracks via overdubbing and play a variety of instruments, too. Yet while an impressive arsenal is featured on the album, with jazz, nylon string, steel, slide, electric twelve-string, and fretless steel string guitars plus guitar synthesizer, glissentar, and baglama a near-complete list of the instruments played, the two resist the urge to overload the songs with excessive layering. Instead, the focus is on relaxed and explorative interplay, the impression created that of two friends playing together for the pure and simple pleasure of doing so. One never gets the impression that these are gunslingers trying to outdo one another but rather kindred spirits intent on mutually inspiring each other.
Much of it's rooted in the English folk tradition, but the two also explore jazz, blues, and even Turkish styles (the latter in the album-closing “Uzun Ince Bir Yoldayim,” a track composed by Asik Veysel). Delicately rendered ballads form part of the programme (e.g., “Libra”), and the two make room for a jazz-blues workout called “Bluster,” whose relaxed swing is easy to warm up to. The seeming ease with which the two alternate phrases during the funky “Breezin' On” impresses, and it's easy to imagine a full ensemble digging into the piece live. The similarly spirited “Chasing Kites” also exudes a buoyant vibe that feels tailor-made for an outdoor concert on a warm summer's evening, while the opener “The Followers” finds Oxley displaying his chops with fluid jazz guitar soloing.
Oxley's guitar synthesizer playing on “The Bridge” invariably calls to mind Pat Metheny, especially when their respective sounds on the instrument are so similar, and Meier nicely complements Oxley with the oud-sounding glissantar. And speaking of which, the wistful “Looking West” is so Metheny-esque in melodic character and title, it would probably inspire envy in the guitarist. But make no mistake: Chasing Tales is no pastiche overly indebted to other artists but rather a collection that reflects the collaborative interplay and personalities of its creators. On a final note, listeners of a more obsessive bent will no doubt appreciate the detailed track-by-track listing of solo credits and the instruments involved in each case.
A duo performance of dramatically different character is captured on Random Abstract, an hour-long collaborative set by guitarist Dušan Jevtovic and drummer Xavi Reija under the aptly named XaDu. Though Jevtovic is originally from Serbia, he's now established in Barcelona, Spain; for his part, Reija, a Berklee College of Music graduate, is considered one of the top drummers in Spain. In eight progressive rock pieces that are split equally between the participants, the players likewise assume equal responsibility for the musical presentation. In some places, XaDu transcends the two-player setup when Jevtovic generates loops that act as accompanying patterns, similar (as Dan Burke notes on the inner sleeve) to the way the tamboura functions in an Indian classical music context.
Roles switch back and forth throughout the hour-long disc. During “Secrets,” for example, Jevtovic voices a recurring figure that enables Reija to play unrestrainedly and twist his rhythms inside out. There's a spontaneity to the material that renders it anything but static and predicable, however, with in this case the guitarist's power chords inciting the drummer to escalate his attack. The results are often heavy, the guitarist's blistering runs unleashed in tandem with the drummer's volcanic flurries. Raw scrabbly squalls careen violently through the title track, while “Decaying Sky,” prodded by Jevtovic's snarl, serves up loping funk-fusion in 7/8. With the guitar laced with distortion, the out-there “Deep Ocean” sounds at times like some long-lost outtake from Jeff Beck's Wired sessions, with Reija matching Jevtovic's impression with a pretty convincing one of Narada Michael Walden.
Not everything on Random Abstract is as heavy. “New Pop” and “No Hope” power straightforward guitar riffs with drum grooves appropriate to the task at hand, and the musicians do dial it down during “Place With a View” and the opening moments of the explorative, jazz-styled “Something in Between.” But the combustible energy of these powerhouse players won't be denied, it seems, as the latter piece, like much on the collection, quickly swells to a roar. The album leaves no doubt that Jevtovic and Reija are versatile players, comfortable playing with math rock-like precision and with delicacy—even if the balance tips in the former's direction on the recording. Tempo and time signature shifts are executed with aplomb, and XaDu shows itself to be a mobile unit capable of changing on the fly.