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Oil & Water

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Album Review

This is what it was always supposed to be about. Stephen Kent, master didgeridoo player and multi-instrumentalist, has been hinting at a record like Oil & Water for a long time, on his solo works and in his collaborations with Lights in a Fat City, Trance Mission, and others. In Kent's hands, the didgeridoo becomes an instrument not only of antiquity and the spiritualities of a bygone time and place, but a living, breathing rhythmist, capable of transforming deep groove music into something magical in collaboration here with Simon Tassano (loops, programming, samples) and a host of others, including Eda Maxym and Peter Valsamis from Trance Mission in various appearances. Kent goes deep into the well of rhythm and harmony. He plays guitars, basses, percussion, and Cello-Sinter, and creates tape atmospheres for his didgeridoo not only to feed from, but to color, enhance, stretch, warp, and spindle. Kent has many (over)tones on the instrument, from a fat, primal, below-the-earth wailing rawness as displayed on "Oil" and "Baraka," to a sweeter, droning, warm, open roundness as displayed on "Thel Kupa." Where rhythm matters primarily, as it does on the two title tracks, Kent has a way of driving his didgeridoo into the heart of the syncopation, and turning it inside out tonally. His own bassline accents the drum loops, and the didgeridoo pierces both. On the numbers where ambience is required to begin such songs as on "Valley of the Winds," the instrument's drone becomes an aesthetic signpost, everything else proceeds from its extended roils and coils, and conical sonic architecture that challenges the notions of space and aural landscape, painting a sonic portrait of time immemorial that has been wounded and refracted back for observation and meditation. In listening to this album over and over, it is startling to think that there has never been a recording of music where the didgeridoo was recorded as it is here, in a live setting, unadorned, full of cavernous, bottomless, space and darkness, in the well of rhythm. This is a soul album: from the soul of the spirits to the soul of man, collected, enmeshed, and inseparable. Oil & Water is a potent mix of blood, guts, and grace. [Family Tree reissued Oil & Water with bonus tracks in 2004.]

Oil & Water, Stephen Kent
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