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shibe lost and found PTC5186988
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Lost & Found
Sean Shibe (electric guitar)
rec. 2021/22, Lost Oscillation Studios, Edinburgh, UK
Reviewed as a digital download from a press preview
PENTATONE PTC5186988 [70]

I doubt there is a more daring or versatile musician recording today than Sean Shibe. There is an art to putting together an effective programme that not every musician has mastered and many would be better off sticking to more traditional formulas. When a musician gets the formula right, as Shibe does on this new recital disc, the results transcend the individual pieces included to create almost a new work. In this instance, they add up to a vision which is Shibe’s.

Vision is very much the appropriate word for this disc since the thread that connects the pieces, however loosely, is a preoccupation with the meditative and the spiritual. The uncanny arrangement of Hildegard of Bingen’s O Viridissima Virga, which gets us under way, sounds for all the world like electronica and alerts us straightaway that this is Shibe using his electric guitars (and a profusion of pedals). Shibe’s magnificent double album Loud Soft gave us music for both the acoustic and electric versions of his instrument but this is his first exclusively plugged in.

As if to avoid frightening off more traditional listeners the next track, one of several of Chick Corea’s Children’s Songs included, shows Shibe in melodious Pat Metheny mode. Throughout Shibe seems concerned with demonstrating the musical range of the electric guitar beyond rocking out. Though it has to be said he does just that on Sea Horse the first of a handful of pieces by the maverick composer Moondog who spent a lot of his life homeless and dressed as Viking. Those familiar with his compositions will already know that they are much more conventional than his lifestyle.

The collection is seasoned with a clutch of contemporary compositions: the first of which is a brittle, glinting piece from Daniel Kidane that seeks to find comfort in response to lockdown tensions. In the context of this recording, it reflects the light shining from the opening Hildegard of Bingen piece.

A more substantial piece from Oliver Leith, Pushing my thumb through a plate forms the pivot point around which the collection turns. The darkness and muted anxiety which has hovered around the previous music comes to the fore– to use Shibe’s own evocative image, the Moondog piece High on a Mountain may evoke the jangling guitars of ‘the band in a lazy bar’ but it is a hauntingly empty bar. The mood of Leith’s work is suffocating with even the strums on Shibe’s guitar strings muffled. Originally written for harp, it is brilliantly reimagined for the guitar.

At this point the album starts to shift from feelings – overt or covert – of lostness to reflections on what being found might mean. Shibe points out in his booklet note that many of these composers were marginal figures for whom the idea of being found has a peculiar poignancy. Shibe’s reference to ‘the post modern chaos of the electric guitar’ reminds us too that that form of the instrument remains at the margins of the acceptable within classical music. That said, this is the kind of album that could change all that.

Of course, Meredith Monk is a contemporary composer but she seems to have been such an essential feature of modern music for so long that she is already a classic. Paired with Bill Evans’ Peace Piece, Nightfall brings balm to the troubled spirit in its calm unfolding wisdom. I will admit when I read the track listing for this recording I gave a sigh when I saw it included Peace Piece. In recent years both Igor Levit and Cordelia Williams have included it masterfully, but in very different ways, in similarly successful recitals to this one. Surely, I thought, lightning can’t strike three times with this piece? I was wrong and what I presume is Shibe’s own reworking of the Bill Evans original is very different from Levit and Williams.

These two pieces prove to be merely transitions to the more profound matters of the last pieces included. Obviously Messiaen is the go to composer for musical mysticism. Originally a motet for choir, the early O Sacrum Convivium! Is thoroughly transformed here, its more advanced harmonic language indicating a shift from the mellow mood of Peace Piece. The contemplative mood of that work and the incantatory manner of the Monk piece which was intended to evoke the changing light at sunset, create a quietness in which, in their very different ways, the full force of the final quartet of works can register.

The spikiness of the Messiaen mirrors in the Found half of the programme the shards of broken stained glass of the Kildane piece in the Lost half. Similarly, I can’t help but hear this as Messiaen played by the jangling strings of the haunted lazy bar band of the Moondog piece I mentioned earlier.

Out of this strange vision, Venus/Zohreh by British Iranian composer Shiva Feshareki emerges as a slow, inexorable gathering of excitement out of its meditative opening. Originally written for string quartet, in its guitar version I kept thinking of the music of an entirely different culture – that of Indian classical music. This is music of breathtaking simplicity. Its arpeggiated figures gather speed and volume and density reaching a thrashing climax. It is the shimmering hazy effects of the music that transport the listener. The composer comments that Venus denotes the material, astronomical planet where Zohreh, the Iranian for Venus, stands for “the spiritual energies” of love. It is those energies that the simple patterns and the simple path of a continuous accelerando and crescendo so powerfully evoke. In Shibe’s hands, it is stunning.

Having released those energies, Shibe takes us into outer space with a second arrangement of a piece by Hildegard of Bingen that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tangerine Dream album. The effect is one of glorious, mystical release – surely most appropriate for this most mystical of composers. Where the earlier arrangement of her work stayed close to the original, this one completely reinvents it to the point where it is almost a Shibe original.

Surely, my already staggered mind thought to itself on first listen, that must be the peak of this disc?

Again I was wrong. Out of the stratosphere of the Bingen looms the truly terrifying grandeur of Julius Eastman's Buddha. Eastman's story is almost too heartbreaking to retell though it needs to be told. A tale of marginalisation and neglect leading to mental ill health, homelessness, addiction and many his extraordinary compositions lost to posterity. I can’t do justice to the heroic efforts of those who have sought, against improbable odds, to salvage and recreate his works. I hope anyone hearing and being bowled over by this concluding piece will seek out what remains of his oeuvre - it is tremendous music that should be better known. What we get here is truly visionary in the best sense. It elevates the listener to consider the deeper, more important things in life and Shibe’s carefully curated collection, triumphantly bring Eastman's music home. If I can indulge a little waxing biblical, what was lost is found.

David McDade

Hildegard von Bingen (c.1098-1179)
O Viridissima Virga (arr. Sean Shibe)
Chick Corea (1941-2021)
Children’s Song 1 (arr. Forbes Henderson)
Daniel Kidane (b. 1986)
Chick Corea
Children’s Song 4 (arr. Forbes Henderson)
Moondog (1916-1999)
Sea Horse
Pastoral II
High on a Rocky Ledge
Chick Corea
Children’s Song 2 (arr. Forbes Henderson)
Oliver Leith (b. 1990)
Pushing my thumb through a plate
Meredith Monk (b. 1942)
Nightfall (arr. Sean Shibe) +
Bill Evans (1929-1980)
Peace Piece
Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
O Sacrum Convivium!
Shiva Feshareki (b. 1987)
VENUS/ZOHREH (arr. Shiva Feshareki and Sean Shibe)
Hildegard von Bingen
O Choruscans Lux Stellarum (arr. Sean Shibe)
Julius Eastman (1940-1990)

Published: October 17, 2022

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