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It's a Wonderful Life

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Album Review

Recorded five years after Outside Pleasure, this solo recording reflects both a maturation in conception on the part of Kaiser and an overt broadening of influences. At this point, he no longer felt obliged to remain in Frith/Bailey territory when improvising (although they certainly remained as models), but was free to import aspects of various forms he loved, from rock to Asian string music and beyond. It's also a much more relaxed, expansive set with less of a hermetic air. The title improvisation (all of the pieces are freely improvised) traces an imaginative journey through rolling glissandos, echoed shards of melody, and frenetic stutterings, all bound by an appealingly nostalgic, wistful quality; it's an early highlight in Kaiser's career. This being the mid-'80s, there's the unfortunate though inevitable experimentation with drum machines (on "Let's Drink 100% Healthy Milk and Study Hard!") that one can, with forbearance, overlook. "The Book of Gold" showcases his admiration of Vietnamese string music wedded, as would often be the case in ensuing years, with American acoustic blues. The final track begins sounding like gamelan, drifts off into ethereal violin-like strains, and finally settles into a luscious pedal steel blues. Not released on disc as of 2001, It's a Wonderful Life may be quite difficult to locate, but is one of Kaiser's very best from relatively early in his development.


Born: 19 September 1952 in Oakland, CA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Guitarist Henry Kaiser is a prolific member of the San Francisco Bay Area music scene, as well as being a globally recognized leader of the "second generation" free improvisers who came of age in the '70s. His earliest musical inspiration came from the spiky sounds of English improvising guitarist Derek Bailey and the many guitarists in Captain Beefheart's Magic Band; later on, Kaiser absorbed the subtle string textures of the American blues stylists and traditional music of Asia, particularly India,...
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It's a Wonderful Life, Henry Kaiser
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