AUSTRIA Editions 008 DL (2018)
Voice and resonator guitar from the prolific US-born Zürich-dweller. But if you’re expecting something like Charlie Parr, you should probably look away now. Neither is this project bathed in sepia-toned cod-“authenticity”, thankfully. For those not familiar with Kahn’s activities over the last twenty years or so, his recorded output has most often been concerned with field recordings and associated recording techniques. He began his music career as a drummer, spent many years practicing improvisation and making field recordings while simultaneously developing his art practice, but more recently has toured using analogue synthesiser, or voice. (STOP PRESS! I’ve just seen a short film on social media promoting Jason’s current duo with guitarist Beat Keller wherein Jason is perched behind a drum kit! You heard it here first!) I attended a recent duo performance with Jason in vocal-only mode in collaboration with master percussionist Christian Wolfarth last year which was absolutely breathtaking, if you’ll excuse the pun.
“Circle_1” is cranking away nicely until at 7 and a half minutes, Kahn’s voice begins to sound like static. It’s unique, I think, in the field of vocal improvisors; at least I’ve not heard anything quite like it before. It’s my favourite sound Kahn makes, I think. On “Circle_2”, his vocal shifts pitch and key; exploring microtones. Quieter, beautiful. For me, the beginning of “Circle_3” creates a desolate atmosphere not unlike Nico’s Desertshore. In mood - not sound or instrumentation, but mood. This may or may not intend to denote a similar kind of disconnection or disunity with ones surrounding or situation.
On “Circle_4”, “Circle_5” and “Circle_6” I particularly noticed that Kahn plays his Resonator guitar with a slide. Probably these pieces are the nearest to a “traditional” approach; or at least, the tradition can be heard in Kahn’s playing. A sharecropper’s blues lament abstracted through the 21st century mind-set prism. You could almost say it could be an emotional tribute to musicians like Tampa Red and Son House. “Circle_6” is actually the last piece of recording from this session at Zürich’s Kunstraum Walcheturm arts space. Kahn utilises the natural reverb of the hall with his skilful microphone placement really nicely.
Kahn talks about Circle in this way: “…Guitar was actually my first instrument, a few years prior to beginning music in earnest on drum set. Returning to the guitar after all these years is in a sense coming full circle for me over my musical lifetime of forty years.”
All six tracks have a duration of between nine and ten minutes, so at nearly an hour of material, there’s plenty to get immersed in. Kahn is as rigorously experimental, perhaps searching is a better word, as is usual on Circles so it’s best to get comfortable and treat this album as an intimate concert in your own front room. I would have liked to set this album in some kind of context and mention certain other experimental musicians known for utilizing Resonator guitar. But outside of Sherry Ostapovich, whose superb album The Red Thumb was released under the name Musicforone back in 2008, there aren’t many other avant-resonatorists, at least that I’m aware of. BJ Cole has used one, I’m led to believe, when he isn’t playing pedal steel. So, it seems here, Jason Kahn is currently working in a very small field. Not a bad place to be. As with all of Kahn’s endeavours, this one rewards careful listening.