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156 Strings: Nineteen Totally Original Acoustic Guitarists

by Various Artists

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Curated by guitarist Henry Kaiser, 156 Strings is his personal selection of acoustic guitarists "who sound like themselves and have something special to say." The 19 guitarists here are both well known & unknown: Duck Baker, Steffen Basho-Junghans, Raoul Bjorkenheim, Jean-Paul Bourelly, Nels Cline, Janet Feder, Fred Frith, Michael Gulezian, Richard Leo Johnson, Henry Kaiser, Mike Keneally, Peter Lang, Scott McGill, Shawn Persinger, Rod Poole, Gyan Riley, Miroslav Tadic, Richard Thompson and U Tin.

"Curated by American guitarist Henry Kaiser, 156 Strings features 19 guitarists playing six-string acoustic or 12-string acoustic guitars (there are seven of the latter case; just do the math). In Kaiser's eyes (and ears), they all approach the instrument from an original standpoint and have creative voices. They come from various backgrounds: rock, folk, avant-garde. No doubt you will recognize a few names, but some will be completely obscure to you. Some you may also know better as electric guitarists, in particular Fred Frith, Raoul Björkenheim (ex-Krakatau), or fusion-rock guitar hero Scott McGill. The biggest names are Frith, Kaiser, ex-Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally, and Richard Leo Johnson, who delivers one of the most beautiful tracks on this album -- his fans won't want to miss it.
Each track was specifically recorded for the project and features solo acoustic guitar only, without electronic treatments. The sound quality is consistently excellent and the interest generally sustained throughout, no matter what your tastes are. Some players will make your folk string vibrate (Gyan Riley, U Tin, and the aforementioned Johnson contribution stand out); others will make you wonder "how they do it."
Frith and Janet Feder use preparations to unleash unusual sounds; Steffen Basho-Junghans closes the set with a captivating piece, an exploration of an untuned 12-string guitar.
One can file in a few complaints about who made the list and who didn't (the absence of Eugene Chadbourne raises an eyebrow), but in the end Kaiser's compilation simply works. It makes a great recital, gentle on the ear." – AllMusic

" You probably overlooked the Loch Ness lizard popping its head out of the lake amid the bucolic landscape that graces this album's cover. Produced by guitar monster Henry Kaiser, 156 Strings thumbs its thematic nose at the unchallenging mellow acoustic tradition represented by, say, the Windham Hill label. Instead, Kaiser has assembled a roster of musicians--ranging from free-improviser Fred Frith and the always-dazzling Nels Cline to folk rocker Richard Thompson--who play music as fresh and difficult as it is entertaining. High points include Raoul Björkenheim's "Lullaby Heart Away," which blends the blues with Indian classical music; the Chinese-country scrapple of U Tin's "Ah Chit Yeh"; Kaiser's own Tantric porn soundtrack "Getting to Fifth Base"; and Michael Gulezian's appropriately titled "Plook the Asbestos Lobster." The album's inspiration and centerpiece, though, is the slice of Steffen Basho-Junghans's "Virgin Orchestra No. 1" that seems to expand exponentially the potential of solo acoustic guitar."-Richard Gehr

"Highly musical, and often highly monotonous, compositions on a highly listenable CD. Only a couple of the "new artists and sounds" peak the pain meter in terms of sheer repetition and/or annoying sonorities, though nearly everyone displays an inadequate sense of form. Maybe this is the current fashion in modern composition--to ramble and fumble around. Compiler Henry Kaiser, who is featured on track 8, goes on and on in the liner notes about the newness of the music, but much of it is utterly derivative of early-20th-century Classical music, modally and harmonically. "Modern" devices like the whole tone scale and dissonant intervals (especially the tritone) are often featured almost for effect alone. Still, given a choice between New Age dreck and "156 Strings," I'll take this collection in a heartbeat. And there are some true gems--in particular, Duck Baker's "Juxta Pose," a skillful and listener-friendly twelve-tone piece whose first chord contains the harmonic and melodic scheme. Baker's playing is phenomenal. Also quite enjoyable is a later track, "Thou Shalt Not Kill," which mimics Bartok even more aggressively, albeit with much less sense of form. Richard Thompson's excellent "How Does Your Garden Grow?" features abstract, Erik-Satie harmony, and "Lullaby Heart Away" is fun, sounding in places like Debussy played on a saw. Be prepared for much guitar-banging, chime effects, and the like, and don't be surprised if a few of the numbers, like Fred Frith's "Access," are little more than a celebration of the tonic chord. I won't attempt to explain the "Virgin Orchestra" track, which would have been more fun at, say, half the length. There's more where it came from, and I can live without more, in this case." – Lee Hartsfeld


released May 7, 2002


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