David Daniell and Douglas McCombs: Sycamore
Thrill Jockey

David Daniell, known for recordings on Table of the Elements, and Douglas McCombs, normally heard playing bass in Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day, met in 2006 when touring as members of Rhys Chatham's six-guitar Die Donnergötter band. There's not a huge leap from that project to their collaborative one, as Sycamore finds the duo re-shaping seven-and-a-half hours of guitar-based live recordings (laid down over five days in the summer of 2008, with Daniell on electric guitar and McCombs on electric guitar and lap-steel) into entirely new constructions, much as Teo Macero infamously did with Miles's raw session material for In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. A loose, explorative character pervades the material, which Daniell and McCombs shape into four, at times ethereal settings of contrasting character.

The opener “F# Song” comes closest in spirit to ambient guitar soundscaping in its generally meditative tapestry, with one guitar in particular standing out as scalding amidst the dense psychedelic backdrop. Halfway through, the lap-steel briefly takes the place of the electric lead, reinforcing the track's peaceful ambiance even more. The electroacoustic exploration “Bursera” grows from a somewhat drone-like opening into something more tumultuous, especially when drummer Frank Rosaly joins the duo, with the three generating a noise mass of six-string screeches and howls that turn positively volcanic at the seven-minute mark. In the splendid five-minute setting “The Deshabille,” Rosaly adds cymbal colorations to a twilight evocation of twanging guitars. Even though John Herndon (Tortoise) and Steven Hess (Pan American, Haptic) both contribute drumming to “Vejer de la Frontera,” the track—overlong at fifteen minutes—meanders a little too much for this listener's liking and ends up being the least compelling of the four. Nevertheless, fans of live guitar interplay should cotton to the project given the strong rapport between the project leaders and the the stylistic contrasts that enhance the recording.

February 2010