Tuesday, September 11, 2007

[HA-3] Andy Futreal: Ophelia Wanders

An intimate offering of acoustic guitar wizardry from the UK-resident Andy Futreal (who also appeared on Harha-askel's Goin' Down Slow compilation and the Like Twilight Bleeding 3" cd-r on New American Folk Hero). Recorded in 2004-2007 in North Carolina, USA, these improvised pieces ran the gamut from blues and folk to more abstract explorations of guitar strings (and field recordings). Futreal's playing combines aspects of the "American primitive" picking of John Fahey (etc) and the UK folk/blues scene of the 60's and onwards (Bert Jansch, Davy Graham etc) with some more exotic influences whilst retaining a quality all his own. A real new talent in the blooming field of acoustic guitar playing.

1. homescape I
2. laterite road
3. ophelia wanders
4. christmas04
5. frontporch
6. over across and down
7. minus5postbenadrylslide
8. suppertime
9. there is no "in the big scheme of things" today
10. occasional rain
11. chickenwing
12. black coffee with sugar
13. timezones II
14. homescape II
15. in the failing light

Edition of 80 copies. Black cd-r, printed covers and insert in plastic sleeve.

What they say

"Finnish label Harha-askel lays some fingerpicked acoustic steel string action on us, courtesy Andy Futreal. Not being familiar with his previous work, the nicely packaged cdr serves as a fine introduction to the Cambridge UK-based guitarist. Futreal lists guitar third in his instruments played, following field recordings and wind chimes. Upon reading this and listening to the opening track, I was excited to see what tricks were up his sleeve and held high hope for a seamless integration of acoustic explorations with “the attendant sounds of place and time”. Turns out the field recordings are mostly held at bay, occupying separate tracks, with only one brief exception. Yet no disappointments ensued following my initial discovery. Instead, this is a rather pleasing set of highly skilled (but not overly flashy) guitar work.

Futreal notes that all of his tracks are improvisations, and it’s tough not to be impressed. He clearly draws on the definition of improvisation as spontaneous composition, as the pieces here follow narrative arcs, have recurring themes, and hold together structurally quite well. His ability to take the kernel of an idea and toss it around playfully is what makes this cd mostly successful. Echoes of Jansch, Fahey and others are all present of course, but Futreal escapes the pressure of mimicry and follows his own style to its logical end. At fifteen tracks long, it’s a bit long, but he’s got something to say and it’s hard to begrudge that.

Futreal’s preferred mode on this disc is the short form, with most tracks hovering around 2 to 3 minutes, simple sketches around a basic idea. Wind chimes and field recordings emerge in the too brief track 5, but again I found myself wanting to hear the guitar brought into the mix. The great strength of Futreal lies in his ability to compose on the spot and to mine the depth of a singular idea in sketch format. Some of the melodies haunt and the playing is certainly impeccable throughout. Rather than succumbing to the need to prove himself alongside fellow travelers Harris Newman, Jack Rose, Rick Bishop, etc, Futreal seems confident enough to play simple melodies and figures without much filigree. He has an ear for the song form and his fingers convey that understanding without trying to impress through dazzling skills of proficiency. Why use more when you can achieve the same results with less?

The disc can feel like an endurance test in spots, but patience is well rewarded, as the last track, “In the falling light”, may hold the most promise here. A near 12 minute excursion, it tips the deck to show that Futreal may have more cards in store next time around. Unlike the sketch-based approach, this is a fully realized and satisfying whole piece of music. Small plates leading up to the final course perhaps? Whatever the intent, it works. Interestingly, this final track is also the sparsest and least showy of all. It’s imbued however with a lovely resonance in the ringing of the guitar tone, and it carries an emotional weight that can only be developed with the time and space to stretch out. This is the Futreal I hope to hear more of in the future. An album’s worth of longer exploratory tracks in this mode would be a welcome next step. 8/10
" (Eric Hardiman/Foxy Digitalis)

"Also utilising field recordings, this time mixed with improvised acoustic guitar, ‘Ophelia Wanders’ is a inventive collection instrumentals with influences ranging from the experimental tendencies of John Fahey, to the dexterity of pickers such as Bert Jansch. A fine example of this dexterity can be heard on the title track, the playing expressive and emotional, whilst ‘over Across and Down’ has a more eastern sound in its slowed down style. Final track, the 12-minute, ‘In the Falling Light’ is a truly beautiful piece and is worth the price of admission alone, the fact that a whole albums worth of good stuff accompany it is reason to celebrate indeed." (Simon Lewis/Terrascope Online)

"Bislacca ed interessante etichetta la Harha-Askel dal grazioso logo ‘a impronta di scarpe’, con sede a Turku, Finlandia, e gestita da Ville Forss, già su queste pagine con il nickname di Ville Moskitto, nome con il quale firma gradevoli e neanche troppo lo-fi dischi di improvvisazioni chitarristiche. Non troppo distante appunto da quanto proposto da costui è il materiale prestente su “Ophelia Wanders”, quasi un’ora di chitarra acustica registrata in varie locations dall’americano Andy Futreal, forse non un gran virtuoso dello strumento ma certo un abile strimpellatore di gradevoli e variate melodie. Il modello di riferimento potrebbe essere il solito Fahey, ma anche certo folk ‘povero’ e semplice, termini qui intesi in senso per niente negativo: il disco, con i suoi errori, le sue piccole stonature e sbavature, si fa ascoltare molto volentieri e ripetutamente, realizzandosi come colonna sonora ideale di letture, cene, viaggi e dialoghi. Forse non un capolavoro e neppure un disco da lasciare a bocca aperta, ma di certo a Futreal non mancano né le capacità tecniche, né il gusto per la melodia, né tanto meno il senso della misura: i brani sono in prevalenza brevi (circa due/tre minuti), e talvolta inframezzati o intrecciati a fields recordings e uno sparuto, bellissimo vibrafono. Un’eccezione l’ultima lunga, lenta e sospesa In the Falling Light, dodici minuti di variazioni per niente noiose che chiudono un CD-R che vale molto più del suo – bassissimo – prezzo, nonostante una produzione davvero - per così dire - artigianale." (Matteo Uggeri/Sands-zine)

"The link to Andy Futreal goes through the New American Folk Hero label and what he does on Ophelia Wanders is to examine the emotional range and possibilities of the acoustic guitar. Gentle guitar structures flow over you and color your current view in different colors depending on what track you’re listening to. We get 15 guitar instrumentals that stroll along gently and in most cases remain in melodic terrain. Sure, Fahey is an inspiration but this has honestly more to do with folks like Bert Jansch than the Takoma scene. That doesn’t prevent it from being an impressive recording draped in talent, but more importantly also in emotion." (Mats Gustafsson/Broken Face)