Andrew Tuttle offers up new age banjophonica to bewilder and beguile on Fleeting Adventure; his new album.
Release date: 29th July 2022
Label: Basin Rock
Format: CD / Vinyl / Digital
Ambient music is usually portrayed as defiantly high brow and broad domed of forehead, cerebral music for cerebral beings. Banjo music? Less so, if to my eternal frustration, as, in my mind, little can beat the the cascading ripple of percussional plucking. So this album, defiantly a mix of the two is an outlier.
To be fair, the likes of Bela Fleck have been stretching the limits of this unfairly deemed as limited instrument for yonks, adding jazz and other textures aplenty. And, if the pedal steel is another instrument indelibly etched into one dimensional assumptions, go see what Chuck Johnson and Susan Alcorn can do with your prejudices, let alone dear old B.J. Cole.
So it was only a matter of time before banjo earned a place at this table, and Tuttle, no relation to the equivalently banjo competent Molly, is the man to take pride of place. Andrew Tuttle is Australian, sadly a country seldom blessed with expectations of clever or careful in music. This is, also and of course, rankly wrong, but such laxity of imagination casts a long shadow in matters antipodean.
Tuttle has been keeping his secret for some time, plucking his five string away from the limelight across four earlier albums, collecting accolades and picking up favour along the way. Adept also on the six strings of acoustic guitar, he has found ways to merge and meld woozy electronic sheen around his playing, mixing with other likeminded instrumentalists: Johnson, as mentioned above, Steve Gunn and the Texan minimalists, Balmorhea. Indeed, they all appear on this recording, as does another steel whizz, Luke Schneider. Enough talk, let’s go listen.
Overnight’s A Weekend starts, don’t they all, with a sustained and prolonged synthesised chord, before a scatter of banjo enters, as the electronics soar, the mood altogether that of a mystic forest in a horror movie for the sophisticated viewer. Which is good. The contrast between the artificial and the organic blends well. Gunn adds guitar, as does Michael A. Muller, with Aurelie Ferriere applying layers of fiddle, and Joel Saxby the sax he is well named for. As well as banjo, Tuttle adds signal processing. No, me neither, but it all augurs well, a fine invite to the party,
Next Week, Pending is a little more orthodox. A little, a ripple of the banjo the lead driver for the tune, as ambient scuzz permeates around, some of that scuzz courtesy Schneider’s steel. I like this sort of mood music. Others may need to be in the zone. The banjo is an anchor for those bemused by the whole.
Correlation, as a title, suggests explanation. Dream on, it being more of the existential same, this time with Chuck Johnson pedalling the steel and with Josh Kimborough on acoustic guitar fatigues. It is, actually, a fine work, chiming notes beckoning in a sense of languor. Johnson can do this in his sleep, and here he excels, the atmosphere redolent of a Hebridean beach in winter. OK, that may vary, yours may be different, but the ambience is sound. This is playing for the sake of the whole, none of your look at me jiggery pokery, often so much part of the banjo repertoire.
Freeway Flex sounds as if it might be an Allman’s-esquer rocker, but, if you are still hoping for that, might I carefully suggest you are on the wrong stage. It is a far gentler boil of a piece, flickers of sounds, guitar, banjo (clearly) and that ubiquitous signal processing, coming together to, well, go nowhere, really, if providing an interesting meander. Maybe New Breakfast habit, which follows, is there to give post-production lacquer, which, in some form, it does, again courtesy the steel, back in Schneider’s competent hands. It strikes me here that this is probably not music to suit every occasion. One for those long dark nights of searching the soul, I think it essentially listening for those having to re-evaluate and repurpose their lives. I was going to say existence. Other listeners, enthusiasts, clearly welcome.
Filtering is full on New Age orchestral, with a bevy of participants adding harp, piano, dobro, harmonium, sax and violin. Second banjo even, the sound of a desert oasis, that saxophone sound Van Morrison applied in and at his most metaphysical. Sure, you can’t dance to it, but you can dream. This track accentuates the feel of this project, and will be the one that has the greatest attract or repel. Count me in the former, but I am feeling mellow this night. The closer, then, is pure Tuttle and crows, their cawing introducing the track.It is, after all, entitled There’s Always A Crow. Maybe the most fluid track here, his playing demonstrates a competence and cognisance of the capabilities, and limitations of the instrument.
This isn’t going to be for all. Probably needing choosing quite where and when, if you need the soundtrack to a blank canvas, this is it, and I feel it.
Try Overnight’s A Weekend from Andrew Tuttle below.