uncatagorizable, unsurpassable

The Fall of Us All (ECM)
Steve Tibbetts

By John Goodin

Steve Tibbetts plays guitar (electric and acoustic) and makes records. A lot of people do that. No one, however, makes records that sound like this except Tibbetts.

After 1989's Big Map Idea, Tibbetts studied Balinese drumming in Indonesia and made visits to Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet. He also toured the U.S. repeatedly with percussionist Marc Anderson. With some occasional help from friends, Tibbetts and Anderson have taken these experiences and produced a rich, dense and often jolly world of sound.

The first half of the disc features electric guitar. The opening cuts, "Dzogchen Punks," "Full Moon Dogs" and "Nyemma," are driven by frantic hand-drumming (no trap sets) and swirls of guitar. We're not talking about tunes and chord changes, not even vamps and grooves. It's all rhythm and guitars, distorted but sweet. It's mood music of a sort but it's Tibbett's mood, not somebody trying to sell you beer or religion.

The last half of the disc features acoustic guitar, and the percussion is less insistent. "All for Nothing" has Anderson playing steel drum in a vaguely Eastern way. Tibbett's acoustic playing is very percussive and shows some debt to Ralph Towner, but he's still his own man. There's a lot to hear and it's all good.

The Fall of Us All is both exciting and fresh. If you have a friend who immediately categorizes everything she hears, play her this. Then stand back and watch her spin her wheels.