It’s safe to say that Leo Abrahams and Shahzad Ismaily are virtuosos. They are at one with their instruments in a way that few are. Combined, they have worked with everyone from Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Bill Frisell, Jarvis Cocker, Jon Hopkins, Marianne Faithfull, Fiest and Paul Simon, to name a fee. The term virtuosos doesn’t sit well with Abrahams and Ismaily though. Instead on their first collaboration album, ‘Visitations’ they deliver nine anti-virtuosic performances. What this means is that instead of a musically pissing contest, who can play faster or harder, Abrahams and Ismaily have tried to redefine what a guitarist can, and should, be.
‘Visitations’ is a haunting album that evokes the spirit of Neil Young’s ‘Deadman’ and Ry Rooder’s ‘Paris Texas’. The guitar work is breathy whilst being atmospheric. It’s a cliché, but it’s not the notes Abrahams and Ismaily play but the ones they don’t that count. Instead of bombarding us with note after note after note, they take their time between them. Letting them gently fade out before delivering the next devastating blow. This way we get to appreciate what they are trying to express, letting it sit with us, rather than trying to play everything at once.
The results are captivating. The album is effectively a conversation between both players. Sometimes one asks a question that needs an answer, other times they are chatting back and forth. The album is at its best when the lines of communication are slightly blurred. Both so excited to be in each other’s presence that they end up talking over each other. Final track ‘Seventh Line Avenue’ exemplifies this. Instead of a garbled mess, the overlapping guitars create a hypnotic blend that feels like a slow-moving babbling stream. We are gently moved in different directions as the guitars snake over, under and through each other.
The album was recorded over a year, whenever Abrahams and Ismaily were in the same city. They would meet up and improvise together and then go their separate ways. Despite being recorded at different times, and in different studios, there is a singular theme that runs through it. This is down to how it was recorded. Two electric guitars plugged straight into the mixing desk. Instead of sounding like nine fragments of time, the album hangs together as if it was recorded over a few days, rather than a year.
While ‘Visitations’ isn’t a conventional album, it leans more towards the avant-garde than mainstream rock, there is something utterly mesmerizing about it. While the talent of both players is on display from the opening of ‘Leaving Delfshaven’ you realise this isn’t your average album of guitar noodling. Both players are comfortable in each-others presence. Instead of showing off their latest licks, they craft elegant pieces of music that build toward something exquisite and charming, rather than bombastic and deafening.
It’s an album that gets better with repeat listens as you gradually start to pick apart the guitar lines. Once you start to do this you are lost in web of subtle tones and riveting riffs.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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