Steve Tibbetts: A Man About A Horse (ECM 1814)

A Man About A Horse

Steve Tibbetts
A Man About A Horse

Steve Tibbetts guitars, percussion
Marc Anderson percussion
Marcus Wise percussion
Jim Anton bass
Recorded 2001 in St. Paul, Minnesota
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Eight years separate 1993’s The Fall Of Us All and A Man About A Horse, during which time Steve Tibbetts met with an accident that required him to have surgery on his right hand. Before the procedure, the story goes, the reclusive Minnesotan laid down all the guitar parts for A Man About A Horse in his home studio, thus leaving a skeleton as solid as his was uncertain. This apocryphal information matters little, however, once “Lupra” reaches its hands, zombie-like, from the soil. The tap of tabla and twang of acoustic guitar engage in intimate conversation, seeming to diagram hitherto unheard regions of the guitarist’s postmodern terrains. The continental drift of his sound is as tectonically aware as ever: sparkling, sure, and ceremonially poignant like the flames on the album’s cover. This teetering session indeed holds on its kindling shoulders a giant cauldron, in which the listener becomes like the fabled frog, unaware of the lethal heat flowering around him. Spirits beckon from behind the beams of the “Red Temple,” wherein slumber the relics of a nameless saint: the faintest sliver of fingernail, a baby’s-breath of hair…each the element of an alchemy that can only be taught through sound. “Black Temple” magnifies the possibility of transformation by polishing its sole crucible to an ember’s glow. Whether in the earthen percussion or transcendent sustains, echoes of The Fall Of Us All permeate every decorated wall, if in a more contemplative mode.

The ambience intensifies in “Burning Temple,” neither exploding nor imploding but shining like a distant sun in search of a planet. The weight of feet sifting through the crumble leaves tracks and trails, and it is over these Tibbetts and his band trace their peace-bringing hands. The scene is crystal clear, as the title of “Glass Everywhere” would seem to imply. The destruction wrought upon the site is internal, and it is along this emotional landscape that the herds of the musicians’ imagination run like the buffalo. The search for reasons continues, forever one step behind the answers. But there is no charity anywhere in the world to mend the damage done. Rather, the music itself becomes the mechanism by which this assemblage coheres into offering. By now, the heat has become so strong that our little frog legs can no longer kick for all the shock. The raw becomes the cooked: a point of no return.

A way out reveals itself in the twisted metal of “Lochana,” in which an electric guitar cries with all the ache of the prairie. A glass eye in the face of “Chandoha” acts as telescope into the private fears that lurk in the backdrop. The air abounds with fragrance, the guitar a match touched to incense. All of which presses “Koshala” into a diamond of such finality that it’s all Tibbetts can do to keep up with its fluttering heart. The delicacy of tabla and sweeping accents of guitar paint an adobe-hued theory of existence at large. With the very landscape as its brush, it emotes in global self-portraits of light. Here emerges a lone sojourner, one who ranges like the Gunslinger of Stephen King’s Dark Tower, unaware of the tangled web of bodies in which he is destined to be enmeshed. And really, destination is something we can always count on in the Tibbetts experience, for we are there the moment we take our first step.

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