Ezra Feinberg on Jon Gibson – Two Solo Pieces

Back around the time that Raven was still ramping up there were a good string of releases by Citay. The band was out of step with the indie set at the time. While they had a sense of grandiosity that would slot them in nicely with the ’06 – ’09 class, Ezra Feinberg and Tim Green embraced a cosmic classic rock quality and genuine appreciation of sunshine ‘70s riffs that would have done well had the band been coming onto the scene right about now. Where bands like Garcia Peoples and One Eleven Heavy have been embraced, they’d rightly have Citay to thank. A decade or so later Feinberg has moved on to a more serene thrum, though still struck with a shining positivity that radiates through his playing. With contributions from John McEntire (Tortoise), Chuck Johnson, and Jonas Reinhardt, he’s swimming through the calm, embryonic gap that lies between Eno, Cluster, Ashra, and Riley. Now Ezra’s sharing a gem that’s more in line with his latter day work – the haunting minimalism of Jon Gibson. Head below to see how this one came into his life and the impact its left there.

“I wish I had a story about discovering Jon Gibson’s Two Solo Pieces that involved being in a cool city on a cool tour hanging out with other cool musicians,” jokes Feinberg. The truth is I have no idea how I came upon it, which is telling. These pieces seem to come from nowhere, like a nearly forgotten memory that occurs for no clear reason. Gibson is himself a hidden gem of the original American minimalists of the 1960s and 1970s; a name in the gatefold, not on the cover. And while recent higher profile reissues have made him somewhat less hidden, the two side-long pieces in 1977’s “Two Solo Pieces” illustrate presence and absence simultaneously. 


“The first, “Cycles,” is a study in harmony and dissonance,” Ezra notes, “and seems to ask how significant the difference between those two musical polls really is. Gibson poses the question through that most spiritual and meditative instrument, the organ. Walking the listener through suspended notes and chords, he resists diving headlong into the celestial sphere and instead remains on its periphery, gazing upon its cosmic grandeur before looking away again. A sunrise or a sudden thunder storm could be equally animated by the same passage. The mood lifts as much as it lowers, and thus this is not music “for” anything. It won’t work as “music for work” nor will it work as “music for chilling.” “Cycles” is nonetheless deeply engaging, with enthralling harmonic and textural twists and turns throughout. Its changes sneak up on the listener, and for me it always feels shorter than its 23-minute running time.”

The second, “Untitled,” is a series of simple melodic lines played on an alto flute. Gibson is known for his woodwind and brass playing on some of the most monumental compositions by Philip Glass, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich, but this improvised piece shares very little with the dizzying intensity of those iconic recordings. In fact Gibson’s solo alto flute is so playful and light, so spacious and unobtrusive it might qualify as Thee Best Sunday Morning Music Ever Made (sorry Lionel Ritchie). But while I’ve selected “Untitled” for so many easy Sunday mornings it now conjures the delicious oatmeal pancakes my wife and I always make, the piece, like “Cycles,” also isn’t “for” anything. Instead it’s about open space, where melodies are always in question. Gibson seems open to going just about anywhere, with one modal line interrupting another, cutting this one short here and stretching this one out there. The direction of the piece is at his whim, and yet all these lines connect. They’re not patchwork, since the repetitive tone color of the alto flute has a monochromatic quality, nor are they linked in a chain, since they’re constantly being cut loose and disrupted. Instead, they reflect thought itself, the way the mind works in bursts and interruptions, neither determined nor meandering, continuous or fragmented, but, in the end, simply alive.”

Thankfully for all of us, Gibson’s work has come back into the fold via the always excellent reissue team at Superior Viaduct. They’ve put not only Two Solo Pieces back in print but also Visitations and Songs & Melodies: 1973-1977. As Ezra mentions this is minimalism, but hardly background music, and should do well as an addition to any collection looking to melt away the tension with a bout of active listening that’s meditative but also mindful. Pick this one up and get Feinberg’s own meditative gem on the dock for its release in June.

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