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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The beautiful one-man show of guitarist Eric Chenaux

Posted By on 04.04.12 at 12:17 PM

Eric Chenaux
  • Eric Chenaux
After listening to his fantastic new album, Guitar & Voice (Constellation), I'm embarrassed to admit that I'd never heard of Toronto's Eric Chenaux. Apparently he has a long history—he was in noise-rock band Phleg Camp in the early 90s and has played in countless ensembles since, exploring jazz, pyschedelia, pop, medieval balladry, and more (though I've never heard of any of those groups either). I do know John Oswald, the Plunderphonics pioneer, with whom Chenaux has also collaborated. But now I need to get to work looking into his past output, because this new one has hit me hard. As its title suggests, Guitar & Voice is an album for just guitar and voice, but it's nothing like the coffeehouse fare you might expect.

The album alternates between atmospheric, lushly textured instrumental pieces and gorgeous ballads that feature Chenaux's warm, feather-stroke vocal melodies. In the press info, Chenaux says of the instrumentals, "They are not interludes. They are ballads with the same interests as the 'songs.'" I couldn't agree more. He's a deft, imaginative player, employing all kinds of techniques. On the instrumental "Simple/Frontal" he uses a bow and electronic effects to make his guitar sound like a phalanx of Hardanger fiddles, seething with harmonic richness and foggy resonance. It fits perfectly with a devastatingly pretty vocal tune like "Dull Lights (White or Grey)," which could be either a jazz standard or a soul classic; his overdubbed guitar parts include jazzy, neatly tangled fingerpicking and serene long tones that delineate the chord changes.

Throughout the collection Chenaux combines meticulous songcraft with experimental instincts, so no matter how pretty or tuneful a piece is, he adds compelling layers of noise and texture, shaped with an improviser's sense of adventure. And when one of the instrumentals pushes the envelope, like the searing eight-minute psych-out "Sliabh Aughty," he never loses his grip on compositional logic. Below you can hear the album's beautiful opening track, "Amazing Backgrounds."

Eric Chenaux, "Amazing Backgrounds"

photo: Eric Craven

Today's playlist:

Bob Brookmeyer, Bob Brookmeyer & Friends (Columbia/Legacy)
João Nogueira, João Nogueira (1972) (Odeon)
Joni Mitchell, Court and Spark (Asylum)
Junior Mance Trio, Junior's Blues (Riverside/OJC)
John Cale & Terry Riley, Church of Anthrax (Wounded Bird)

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