ROOTLESS ALL THAT’S LEFT IS A DESERT (2018, AURAL CANYON)
Originally published December 11, 2018
I’m very much enjoying the new wave of post-American Primitive artists doing the rounds at the moment: musicians who are taking the classic steel-strung guitar sounds of Fahey, Basho, Lang et al and using them as a springboard from which to dive into new and varied rivers of sound. Andrew Weathers has been ploughing this furrow for a good few years; Dylan Golden Aycock and M. Mucci are both regular dabblers; Elkhorn have added to the pot by spiralling off into cosmic fingerstyle psychedelia.
To this band of forward voyagers, we must now add Los Angeles based, New York native Jeremy Hurewitz, who releases music as Rootless, with previous albums on Experimedia and Cabin Floor Esoterica. His fourth outing, All That’s Left is a Desert, is his first for Austin, Texas-based Aural Canyon, a label hitherto more associated with modular synth and deep drone - which is, of course, in itself a fine and beauteous thing. Jeremy’s music dovetails neatly with the Aural Canyon aesthetic, not just because of the occasional hazily ambient passage, such as you might find towards the end of his astonishing magnum opus ‘Last Man Standing’, but because this is revelatory, immersive music.
Rootless arguably has a retooled new age vibe: not the wafty, overly-mannered new age muzak of popular cliche, but the real deal: organic mind and body music for deep listening and high times. The touchstone here is very early Windham Hill, a label founded, if we recall, by William Ackerman, himself a rather fine fingerstyle player whose debut, In Search of the Turtle’s Navel, paid sly homage to Fahey. It’s all circles within circles round these parts. The beautiful, insinuating urgency of ‘Self Contained’ is the strongest evidence for this allegation, a bubbling, eddying track that gathers momentum as it races downstream, until it resolves itself in a field recording of waves lapping on shingle.
This is far from mere unreconstructed new age redux, however. The American Primitive thing is there - and nudging more towards Basho than Fahey, particularly on the most straightforward offering, ‘The Third Man’- but when it comes to the guitar lineage, the man Jeremy identifies as a key influence, the mighty Sir Richard Bishop, looms large: not so much in the playing itself, though that is there, but in a shared dedication to a roving, questing, borderless eclecticism, that might take in psychedelic folk, improvised music, Middle Eastern tropes and found sounds - as exemplified by closer ‘Within from Without’, an ominous nocturnal hymn that is transformed into a quietly blissful evocation of early morning.
The other influence at play, particularly deliciously and most pertinently, is the avant jazz inflections of the Chicago school of post-post rock. This flag is nailed to the mast from the off: opener ‘Perimeter’, which, ironically, is an outright refusal to accept any such thing, quickly shifts from a shimmering solo guitar warm-up to full-on Don Cherry-style multikulti organic jazz, with stuttering percussion and keaning flute provided by Kevin Shea and Matt Nelson, who prove themselves to be sympathetic foils to Jeremy throughout.
This is music that exists - but is not trapped - in a spider’s web of influences, all of which have been spun before, but which are now recalibrated with a fresh zeal and a wide-open mind. One of the strengths of the album is that it is almost impossible to second guess where a particular track will go from the clues given in the opening few bars. You can happily file this album alongside Sir Richard Bishop; you even can file it next to your favourite American Primitive heroes, especially those with form for experimentation: but the revelation for me is that you can also file it alongside Jeff Parker, Jamie Branch and Nicole Mitchell. Incredibly, Rootless have made one of the best jazz albums of 2018.