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Ethnic Fusion

Big Black

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Album Review

When an album is deemed unclassifiable, it usually is either because one feels it belongs to a style yet to be defined or because one doesn't know what to do with it. There is a little of both in the case of Ethnic Fusion. For this late-1981/early-1982 studio session, percussionist Big Black teamed up with a young guitarist named Anthony Wheaton. He plays acoustic guitar with a definite classical background. Black handles the tumbas and bongos with great dexterity, playing with fire and conviction. The unamplified duo performs original compositions that stand somewhere between classical Spanish guitar pieces and Afro-Cuban jazz — in "Trinidad" the 12-string guitar part even conjures Anthony Phillip's album Twelve. The meeting between the delicate guitar lines and Black's rock-hard hands is unexpected and highly unusual, but it works. It may take you a couple of listens at first to get used to the very low recording level and the initially frightening inequality between the two instruments. Even though the percussionist dominates, the real leader is Wheaton. His inflections in "China Lake" trigger Black's choice of rhythms. "Pavan," very 16th-century, constitutes an extreme example of these two worlds colliding. After the guitar has stated the theme, the tumbas enter thunderously, retreating to let the theme rise again, almost inaudible. And what about "Jigs," so French in spirit, accompanied by African instruments. This one-of-a-kind fusion was first released in 1982 on 1750 Arch and reissued on CD in 2001 on Mutable Music. ~ François Couture, Rovi

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