Calibos (Trestle Records) is a collaboration between Londoners Jonny Fryer (guitar and percussion) and Adam Coney (guitar). Their debut recording as a duo, it is a beautiful, understated album of blues-based instrumental improv.
Eschewing overt displays of technical facility, refinements of methodology and extremes of expression, they’ve achieved a distillation of sympathetic textures and laconic melodic gestures from an admirably Spartan instrumental palette.
“Upon the Green Night”, the album’s tenth and last track, is built (none too extravagantly) on its simplest and most immediately appealing melody. It suggests the influence of post-Fahey American fingerstyle, and wouldn’t sound out of place on an album by David Grubbs. Elsewhere, the duo are more inimitable, with Fryer’s percussion giving the album much of its unique flavour.
Gong strikes introduce “You Sleep Serenely”, imbuing its tightly cyclical guitar figure and animating handclaps with deep resonance. Further guitar tracks suggest melodic potentialities, the strongest worming along on a serpentine vibrato, but none are developed. As with most of the other nine tracks, it is cut at the point of florescence, curtailing any hint of self-indulgence.
The clear-picked, twin acoustic melody of track two (“In the Blue Darkness of the Night”, the CD text says; there are no titles on the sleeve) is set to a simple rhythmn of woodblock and bells. “Lying Down in this Cheerless Brass-bound Chest” is more rhythmically insistent, cinematic even, but it’s no less a fragment: a steady strum interrupted by gamelan-tones, cello drones, and the plaintive harmonica of guest player Robert Doherty.
“Nor the Roaring wind” (track seven) is a nocturne, with a tamped but insistent pulse and Doherty’s campfire harmonica swelling a delicate yearning in its understated melody. The harmonica plays a very different role on the tenebrous, impressionistic “Mirrored in the Water”, adding rich sustains to string drones and ruffles of metallic percussion.
“Oh Fair Little Face” (track four) is a sombre meditation on stark reverb, tautly-bowed strings and a desultory percussion track tapped out on what sounds like cardboard boxes. It’s highly effective—and this is true of the album overall—for being slightly homespun, and it’s affecting too, with haunting nuances in the mix evoking a plaintive mood.
Percussion and idiophonic instrumental felicities are judicious and painterly throughout, but Calibos is still a guitar album at heart.
An ornate, Spanish-tinged acoustic guitar solo accompanied by the subtle overtones of singing bowls is almost all there is, and all that’s needed on “Nestled in Your Purple Cloak” (track five), while an electric guitar figure picked out of a previously limpid wash of chafed guitar, metallic percussion and marimba gives track nine, “Let the Sea Sleep”, its spine.
“You Don’t Feel the Salt of the Scudding Waves over Your Hair” (track six) is the album’s most satisfying and complete piece: twin acoustic guitar lines blending simple classical figures with attenuated, lute-like picking, while percussion (timbales?) makes intimate with talking drum patterns, everything kept steady by a string drone, and ticking down to silence.
Over the past few days I’ve returned to Calibos again and again, each time finding new pleasures in the delicate shadings of its realisation.
Beyond Callibos, Jonny Fryer also plays with These Mountains, as one half of the duos Door (“experimental noise”) and Ten (“ambient”), and records for Trestle with a guitar trio, Tout.
Tout’s music is perhaps more ambitious, certainly less introspective, and much less quirky than Calibos. Their music’s roots in American country and folk styles are channelled into languid cinematic soundscapes occasionally spiked with jolts of folk- and acid-rock. Fryer may well find a wider audience with them than with Calibos, but for my money the subtle originality of the present collaboration with Adam Coney will be hard to beat.
The label, established in London in 2011 and “dedicated to putting out new instrumental music”, has already built up an impressive catalogue of releases, of which the first to catch my ear was Hassan Falls To His Death, an album of bleak solo improvisations by Gallon Drunk’s James Johnston, lately a member of Faust.
Calibos, incidentally, is named after a character from the 1981 film Clash of the Titans. The son of a sea goddess, Calibos is transformed into a deformed monster by Zeus. He has no pre-Haryhausen origin in mythology, but has already lent his name to an early 80s Czech thrash metal band and a trio of Virginian indie rockers. I don’t see any confusion arising.