Begging for its secrets to be given an airing, progressively minded multi-instrumentalist’s treasure chest opens – at last, and it was worth the wait.
If properly engineered, a puzzle box is a compact objet d’art which has moving pieces and delivers gratification upon solving this palpable enigma – and that’s exactly how it goes with Clint Bahr’s solo debut. Almost two decades after TRIPOD released their only album, the American artist has stepped out on his own, although in the company of a few famous friends – former members of VDGG, TELEVISION, FLASH and KING CRIMSON – who have been helping him slide these melodic and rhythmic elements in place for years until the very varied results seemed complete. Up to the listener to wonder at its inner logic and beauty now, the veteran’s long-gestating disc amassed a lot of surprises along the way, revealing new facets of the dozen numbers on display with every new spin – like a series of discoveries concealed in the compartments of original wooden item. Appropriately, these cuts’ sound couldn’t feel warmer than what’s on offer here.
And what can feel more analogue than the raga of “Tabula Rasa” that both opens the album and brings it to a meditative close, with Clint first strumming a tambura alongside Dan Parkington sitar, while David Jackson’s flutes weave mesmeric lines in their tapestry, and then introducing Moog pedals to the effects-laden mix in which the drone is passed to David Cross‘ violin and viola? What’s between these tracks won’t be as highbrow, however, a smattering of improvs never crossing the line of pointless, complacent intricacy and leaning towards lighthearted playfulness instead. Still, whereas two jazz stalwarts, Marilyn Crispell on piano and Dick Griffin on trombone, lead Bahr’s Chapman Stick and percussion astray, to foray into a well-tuned, albeit sometimes angular, adventure and render the brief “Belt & Braces” and the epic “As Tympani Melt In The Greek Heat” extremely arresting, the experimental exotica of the sax-smeared “New Design” and sweet swirl of the fairground-smelling “Shelter” ooze delicious heaviosity once hefty riffs surface to come to the fore.
Yet when Mike Hough or Billy Ficca’s drums drive the drift, under Clint’s simple voice and impressive array of many-string basses and ivories, to fantastic frenzy, orchestral panoramas unfold. In this context Colin Carter’s vocals thunder on “Fall From Grace” as a prophetic call from the Scripture over a chthonic groove, the sawing of Parkington’s bow and the ringing of Bahr’s Mellotron and acoustic guitar, and the late Peter Banks’ fingers run frenetically over the frets in “Kicking The Wasp’s Nest” which rocks wildly, before the tremulously translucent “Lifeguard In The Rain” finds the main man deep in a reverie. Actually, “Puzzlebox” is a nerd’s dream: temperately sophisticated but accessible – and immersive only sonic mosaic may be; it’s an intellectual and emotional masterpiece.