Essential New Music: Loren Connors & Oren Ambarchi’s “Leone”

Loren Connors has dueted with many guitarists over the years, but he always presents them with the same challenge. The longtime New Yorker knows what he’s going to do, but what are they going to do while he does it? Which isn’t to say that Connors, who predominantly uses the electric guitar himself, always plays the same thing. Far from it. He’s explored every inch of the ranges between quietness and loudness, precise lyricism and blurry abstraction, pith and loquaciousness.

But whatever Connors plays, he expresses a baleful, abstracted blues spirit that sounds like no one else. And he neither dictates to his partners nor overtly accommodates them. Some accompanists (Jim O’Rourke, in particular, comes to mind) have created settings for Connors’ signature sound, framing and reframing his blue sentiments, while others (most successfully, bass guitarist Darin Gray) have challenged him with tonal and stylistic contrasts. 

Oren Ambarchi, an Australian who currently resides in Germany, obtains a sound that’s just as singular as Connors’, but it’s totally different in substance and approach. Ambarchi uses pedals and a Leslie cabinet to transform his electric guitar’s signals into an array of bass reports and elongated, organ-like tones. When the two men play together, they present each other with an existential mirror image; neither plays like the other, but each can see in the other a similarly singular creative force. 

So, of course, Leone doesn’t proceed like your standard duet recording. Connors gets the first side of this LP to himself, and the way he navigates his passage has more in common with a conductor guiding an orchestra than a musician finding his way. He strikes chords and lets them fade, lingering over slow transitions, only to suddenly disappear into ghostly near-silence or freeze for a moment in the middle of his wah-wah pedal’s arc.

Flip the record, and Connors builds from distant flickers to sudden flares while Ambarchi creeps from subliminal bass to vertiginous, whirring tones. The consonance of each man’s sounds suggests that they’re quite aware of each other, but the content of their playing is so different that they seem to be coexisting rather than conversing. The effect is like one of those occasions where the moon rises before the sun sets; first you see one, then both, then only the other.

During Ambarchi’s closing passage, he moves into the space that Connors has occupied, but without displacing anymore volume. Instead, his sonic layers part, drifting like widely separated layers of clouds.

—Bill Meyer