Glenn Jones has now been playing the guitar for the best part of half a century and, much to his credit, has never stood still. From his work with the experimental rock band Cul De Sac, through his five previous solo albums to his latest release Fleeting there seems to have been a consistent drive both to avoid repeating himself and to find new ways of expression. His solo fingerstyle work is generally categorised as American Primitive but this, like most attempts to pigeon hole music, is perhaps overly simplistic. In an interview for Premier Guitar he relates how, after his discovery of John Fahey, it took him until his thirties to produce music of which he could say ‘I’ve never heard John do anything quite like this. This is just me.’
Part of this search for an individual voice entails the use of not only established open but also unusual, invented tunings and the use of partial capos. The latter are generally applied to the bottom three strings and sometimes well up the neck, shifting pedal basses into the mid region and sometimes allowing ringing open treble strings to act almost like a bass inversion. Over this, melody lines are played on the top three. The effect is one of immense complexity which, as a player, takes some time to get your head around. On their website Jones’s label, Thrill Jockey, offer an ‘About’ the artist quoting his attitude to his technique as used on Fleeting as “… it’s my hope that what you hear are not the tunings and partial capos and all that, but the music — the feeling within these pieces.” You do!
Fleeting opens with Flower Turned Inside-Out, the most upbeat track on the album and which aptly demonstrates the complexity outlined above. I tend listen to review albums first, look at the liner notes later and so it was with some amusement that I read that the recorded version was take twenty four and that by twenty three Jones had decided the piece was unplayable. Only the urging of Laura Baird, his engineer and sister of Meg Baird, prompted one more run at it which proved successful.
The following track, In Durance Vile, demonstrates the range of Jones’s musical vision. A slow, haunting, dissonant piece offering unexpected changes in dynamic range and ringing harmonics. This started life as an accompaniment to a reading of poems written by the abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky. This is my personal favourite of the ten tracks on this complex album, followed very closely by Close To The Ground a beautiful, gentle blues dedicated to Michael Chapman. Amongst the other guitar tracks Jones pays homage to another hugely significant player, Robbie Basho, on Portrait of Basho as a Young Dragon.
As well as extraordinary fingerstyle guitar Fleeting includes three banjo tracks two of which, Cleo Awake and Cleo Asleep share a basic melody and inspiration, the latter tune played using a banjo mute. The third banjo track takes the fall on the river which flows through Spokane, where Jones was born, as its inspiration and closes with a recording of the rushing water. The following guitar piece, the tribute to Robbie Basho, opens with a repeated, delicate phrase which made me think of water dripping from a leaf in contrast to the torrent which closes the preceding track.
The guitar tracks on the album were all recorded in the living room of a house on the banks of the Rancocas Creek in Mount Holly, New Jersey and no attempt was made at soundproofing. This is in keeping with Jones’s like of recording ‘in spaces with character that are remote from the day-to-day world’. The album, dedicated to his late mother, has been described as a musical reflection on ‘the past and the way places and people resonate in our lives’ and in the interview with Premier Guitar Jones says ‘It’s kind of a liability that the older you get, the more past you have behind you, I tend to think about that a lot, and that’s where the album title comes from’.
I’m sixty four now, been playing since I was about eight and Fleeting works beautifully for me!
Fleeting is Out Now via Thrill Jockey
Glenn Jones UK & European Tour
Mon April 25th – London, UK – Cafe OTO *
Tue April 26th – Bishops Castle, UK – Bank House
Wed April 27th – Glasgow, UK – Glad Cafe
Thu April 28th – Ghent, Belgium – Vorooit ^
Sat April 30th – Brussels, Belgium – HECTOLITER
Sun May 1st – Paris, France – La Chaise (les tabourets) #38
Concert en appartement (Paris 8) – HOUSE SHOW ^
Wed May 4th – Portalegre, Portugal – CAE Portalegre: Performing Arts Center
Thu May 5th – Lisbon, Portugal – Galeria ze dos Bois
Fri May 6th – Espinho, Portugal – Auditorio de Espinho
Sat May 7th – Braganca, Portugal – Centro de Arte Contemporanea Graca Morais **
Sun May 8th – Madrid, Spain – TBC
* with Kath Bloom
^ with Daniel Bachman
** with Norberto Lobo
Photo Credit Laura Baird