We Are One, In The Sun: A Tribute To Robbie Basho
Not too long ago, we had the distinct pleasure of reviewing Arborea's music and so were delighted to discover that the group's Buck Curran was the person responsible for masterminding this tribute compilation to American musician and composer Robbie Basho. A quintessential labour of love, We Are One, In The Sun: A Tribute To Robbie Basho honours the memory of the steel guitarist who first gained attention in 1965 when John Fahey issued The Seal of the Blue Lotus on Takoma Records but tragically died only twenty-one years later. While the tribute features cover versions of Basho material, it also includes a generous share of original compositions by the artists involved. Another of the collection's strengths is the range of its content. Naturally, there are guitar-based pieces but there are also vocal songs and settings for cello and Persian Oud.
The collection's framed by contributions from the German guitarist Steffen Basho-Junghans, who has spent almost two decades composing guitar music in the spirit of Robbie Basho. Basho-Junghans' two pieces, “Rolling Thunder Variation II” and “Rocky Mountain Variations,” mesmerize with their spiraling clusters of blinding 12-string guitar patterns. Rather than feeling overlong, the eleven minutes accorded to the latter only makes the piece feel more epic in its scope. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Glenn Jones contributes a beautiful original of his own (“1337 Shatuck Avenue, Apartment D”) where his mastery of the steel string guitar is used in service to the material in question rather than as an opportunity to showboat (like all of those involved in the project, Jones takes to heart in his performance one of Basho's own mantras, “Soul first, technique later”). In this case, wave upon wave of picking adds up to eight minutes of slow dazzle. Recorded at Helena Espvall's Sweden home, “Travessa Do Cabral” conveys a raw and primal character in the bow and pluck of her cello's cry, while “Baghdad Athania,” a jubilant Persian Oud meditation by Iraqi-born Rahim AlHaj, provides a reminder of Basho's own passion for the music of different cultures, including Japanese (his last name was inspired by the Japanese haiku poet Matsuo Basho), Persian, Indian, and Native American.
On the vocal front, Meg Baird's fragile voice soars o'ertop acoustic guitar playing during the haunting and transporting “Moving Up A Ways” (from 1972's The Voice of the Eagle). Arborea's rendering of “Blue Crystal Fire” (from 1978's Visions of the Country) proves to be as haunting as the group's own songs, especially when Shanti Curran's lovely voice graces a folk ballad that could just as easily have been composed hundreds of years ago rather than decades. Timeless in design too, Fern Night's “Song for the Queen” (from 1969's Venus In Cancer) merges the talents of Margaret Ayre (vocalist and cellist), Jim Ayre (guitar), and Jesse Sparhawk (harp) for a meditation that's as spellbinding as Arborea's. How wonderful it is that instead of his name and work slowly vanishing into oblivion one finds Basho's music living on in the form of this superb collection (the recording is also dedicated to the memory of Philadelphia-based guitarist Jack Rose (1971-2009), a kindred spirit to Basho who similarly passed away too young).