Steve Tibbetts: Big Map Idea (ECM 1380)

Steve Tibbetts
Big Map Idea

Steve Tibbetts guitars, dobro, kalimba, pianolin, tapes
Marc Anderson percussion
Marcus Wise tabla
Michelle Kinney cello
Recorded 1987/88 in St. Paul, Minnesota
Engineer: Steve Tibbetts
Produced by Steve Tibbetts

With this release, Steve Tibbetts turned a new leaf in his cartographic imagination. The album’s title betrays its creator’s humility, acknowledging the incompleteness of any landscape, which is never more than a cultural possibility. We see this the moment that signature slack-jawed guitar and worldly percussion paint for us a big map indeed in “Black Mountain Side.” And what’s this? A Led Zeppelin tune, artfully arranged and wrapped in a sparkling bow as only Tibbetts can tie it. But even when he strays into the dripping caverns of “Black Year,” where flames have burnt out long ago yet still flicker with feeling, we are never lost, for there is always something familiar to hold on to. Tracks like this and “Big Idea” teeter at the edge of an all-out frenzy, but stay respectfully perched atop cold mountains, watching the plains with eagle eyes. Each hit of the steel drum forms a new cloud, rustling the foliage in “Wish” and hopping like a bird from branch to branch. The finger tapping and kalimba-infused connections of “Mile 234” make it one of the more masterful turns on this trip. Some of that same instrumental color bleeds into “100 Moons” before an acoustic/electric dance lays track in “Wait.” Sampled voices flow throughout “3 Letters,” turning like a diorama lit by strings, and finish as if living in reverse, turning light into dark, warm and sustained by a maternal hope.

If the majority of Tibbetts’s work is a chant, then Big Map Idea is a lullaby. It is a florid expression of its ancestors, using a relatively intimate palette, one where wings and earth are far closer to one another than logic would dictate.

<< Keith Jarrett: Dark Intervals (ECM 1379)
>> Jan Garbarek: Legend of The Seven Dreams (ECM 1381)

3 thoughts on “Steve Tibbetts: Big Map Idea (ECM 1380)

  1. My wife and I actually saw Bert Jansch play Black Mountain Slide live (he warmed up for Neil Young) – it still had that unmistakable guitar run. I really like what Tibbetts does with it – this is a bit of a breather in between the twin towers of Safe Journey/Exploded View and Fall of Us All. One of those Tibbetts that fits well with breakfast on Sunday morning!

  2. My first exposure to the music of Steve Tibbetts came via the “Fall of Us All” album many years ago. I loved its sensual fire, its exoticism, its occasional dark ambiance and, of course, Steve’s highly intuitive playing style, alternating between sheets of molten lava and wisps of ruminative quiet. I’m not sure what obstacle got in the way of my discovering the rest of his catalog sooner, but I’m glad I finally did, with “Big Map Idea” being the first step in that journey. I’ve always felt that the best musicians are the ones who combine a distinctive imagination with a unique – even idiosyncratic – instrumental voice; one that you can easily recognize just from the first three notes. IMHO, Steve Tibbetts has both of those traits in spades, and this album serves as a great vehicle for them. (And I just LOVE the coloration he gets from using steel drums, kalimba and tabla in the mix – totally enchanting).

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