I became acquainted with the work of Richard Osborn when his piece, “A Dream Of Distant Summer,” appeared on Beyond Berkeley Guitar.¹ Work & Worry had the good fortune of interviewing each guitarist associated with that collection prior to its release in 2010. Richard’s interview from the series, as well as the liner notes from his latest album, Giving Voice: Guitar Explorations, portrays a very open sort of person, eager to discuss the details of his life and their effect on his music. I feel this is worth mentioning. For one, it’s refreshing to encounter someone who is straightforward; that makes no attempt to surround their endeavors in mystique. More importantly, Richard’s guitar playing sounds like an extension of his personality: not flashy or technique driven, but honest, and self aware. Continue reading
It was our good fortune to catch up with Sean Smith in order to discuss his latest record, Huge Fluid Freedom, out now on Strange Attractors Audio House. The title of the album and its opening composition come from a piece by the thirteenth century Persian poet, Rumi:
Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone?
Fish dont hold the sacred liquid in cups.
They swim the huge fluid freedom.
Drumsound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.
A voice inside the beat says,
“I know you’re tired, but come, this is the way.”
W&W: Electric guitar figures prominently on Huge Fluid Freedom, which is a shift from the previous three albums of acoustic guitar solos, or in the case of Eternal, ensemble recordings that revolved around your acoustic guitar parts. I appreciate that you don’t treat the two instruments interchangeably. Your electric guitar playing on the new album has a distinct character… not merely electrified fingerpicking, as one might predict, but ecstatic, celebratory. Can you elaborate a bit on your approach to the electric guitar and how it’s been affecting your solo music?
I appreciate your ability to hear the difference and, as a champion of acoustic fingerstyle, not be turned off by the fact that I’m working with a broader palette. Also, your description of my playing being “ecstatic and celebratory” is a very apt and welcome view. That’s exactly what I’m going for, or rather, what I can’t help but do. Continue reading
By Raymond Morin
Well, here we are at the end of “Beyond Berkeley Guitar” Week. I really hope you’ve enjoyed our interviews with all of the great guitarists involved in the project. Today, we finish up with Sean Smith, producer and curator of both the original Berkeley Guitar collection, as well as Beyond Berkeley Guitar, which is out now on Tompkins Square. Sean has developed quite a reputation as a leading light in the new solo guitar movement, and we tend to agree… his full length album Eternal got a great review on this very website, and from talking to many of his Bay area contemporaries (as well as the man himself) I’ve come away with the image of an ambitious and talented, yet warm and friendly young guitarist, truly an asset to the Berkeley guitar scene, and for that matter, to the world of music in general. Sean’s solo “Ourselves When We Are Real” is the centerpiece of Beyond Berkeley Guitar, and in it’s nearly 12 minutes, covers many moods and techniques. Continue reading
Back in 2006, Tompkins Square, one of the world’s leading acoustic guitar, jazz and archival folk labels, released a compilation called Berkeley Guitar. The LP showcased the playing of three up-and-coming young guitarists : Matt Baldwin, Adam Snider and Sean Smith, who also assembled and produced the collection. The disc made it clear that the American Primitive guitar tradition, first popularized (I know, relative term) by now-legends like John Fahey and Peter Lang in the 60’s, was still alive and well in Berkeley in the new century.
On June 8, 2010, Tompkins Square will release a second installment, aptly titled Beyond Berkeley Guitar. This new collection was once again curated by Smith, and as the name suggests, the parameters have been expanded… Beyond Berkeley Guitar features the work of seven guitarists from the greater Bay area, and the music of these players covers a wider range of sounds, styles, and techniques, both compositional and philosophical.
The players’ geographic proximity results in only a little overlap in their approaches to solo guitar music… from the Robbie Basho-inspired, free-raga meditations of Rich Osborn to the kinetic, bluesy electric runs of Ava Mendoza, from Smith’s multi-movement psychedelic journeys to the more tightly wound, succinct opening statement by Aaron Sheppard… there is a lot of variety on offer, and the twists and turns all add up to make Beyond Berkeley Guitar not only a wonderful snap-shot (polaroid?) of a vibrant guitar scene, but also a great record in its own right.
With the help of Smith and the label, I was fortunate enough to get interviews with everyone who appears on Beyond Berkeley Guitar. For me, these interviews were both exciting and fascinating. The players who appear on this collection are all fantastic guitar players, there’s no doubt about it… but I was delighted (though not surprised) to find that they are all thoughtful, warm and intelligent people, happy to share their thoughts on the instrument, composition, the rich tradition of instrumental guitar music and its welcome resurgence.
The interviews will be posted one per day, starting tomorrow with Aaron Sheppard. There is little or no editing, in most cases. One important note : though I would usually provide a sound sample with any given interview or record review, each player only has one track on Beyond Berkeley Guitar… and I wouldn’t want to give everything away, just like that! I want to strongly encourage fans of finger-picked guitar music to pick up this release, you won’t regret it! Please enjoy the interviews.
Last month, Strange Attractors Audio House reissued Sean Smith’s terrific album, Eternal.¹ Where Sean’s prior recordings: the self-titled LP, Sacred Crag Dance, Corpse Whisperer, and contributions to Berkeley Guitar, established him at the forefront of the underground solo guitar scene, Eternal reveals him to be a gifted arranger as well. Most of the album finds Smith in ensemble with combinations of Adam Snider, Fletcher Tucker and Angela Hsu on stringed instruments (violin, mountain dulcimer, banjo, etc) and Spencer Owen on percussion (claves, sandpaper blocks, drum kit, etc). As with his solo work, Sean takes on a number of different folk styles, and the ensembles allow him to superimpose a variety of textures. The result is an album that is as entertaining as it is challenging, which cannot always be said of offerings from even the most talented instrumentalists. Continue reading