Our pals at Other Music just re-upped on copies of Sir Richard Bishop's Fingering the Devil this week. Says OM, Fingering "is a gem -- while not the first solo outing by Sun City Girl, Sir Richard Bishop, it might be the first to really capture what this protean guitar inventor really sounds like live." We're inclined to agree. After the jump, check Charles Homan's Gen F on Bishop from F34.
City To Sun City
Sir Richard Bishop listens along the way
By Charles Homans
Sir Richard Bishop believes in travel but he does not believe in guidebooks. To be sure, he does his research before he sets foot in India, Southeast Asia or North Africa. But if you follow travelers’ directions, he points out, you mainly find other travelers.
On an overexplored planet, Bishop is in a hell of a spot. He is a frequent and enthusiastic visitor of the most backpacker-plagued corners of the world and he is a musician who sucks up influences, like North Indian classical music and the gitana guitar tradition, that have been regurgitated ad nauseum already by every awful jazz fusion guitarist this side of Return To Forever. What’s an adventurer/guitarist to do under the circumstances? Throw out the map and follow his goddamned ears.
Improvika, Bishop’s second record as a solo performer (for over twenty years he’s been one third of Seattle’s cryptic and generally unclassifiable Sun City Girls), is a collection of acoustic guitar improvisations that inevitably beg comparison to steel-strung antecedents like the late John Fahey and Derek Bailey. But while Fahey (who released Bishop’s first solo album, Salvador Kali, on his Revenant Records label in 1998) rooted his music in American folk textures and Bailey plays with an ascetic dedication to free improvisation, Bishop is a one-man gypsy highway from the Ganges to Le Hot Club. He has a musical heart big enough for all of it but maintains a respectful distance from the traditions in which he isn’t trained; he tosses off technically accomplished homages to Django Reinhardt with an indie-rockish shrug and is careful not to call his lengthy—and often breathtaking—modal excursions ragas. “They’re certainly not real ragas, because there’s so much theory and discipline involved in North Indian music,” Bishop says. “My goal is to capture the feeling of that music, the experience of it.”
The resulting aesthetic falls in the lineage of Debussy copping the Javanese gamelan riffs he heard at the 1889 Paris Exhibition and of André Breton’s hoard of Pacific island masks and other objets trouvés in his rue Fontaine apartment. It’s the kind of enthusiastic cross-cultural borrowing that makes post-colonialists cringe. But when someone else’s art is mangled by skilled-enough hands, the whole mess becomes so original and intriguing that getting worked up over the “why”s of it all would be a waste of time.