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Glenn Hall / Lee Ranaldo / William Hooker - Oasis of Whispers

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Artist: Glenn Hall / Lee Ranaldo / William Hooker

Album: Oasis of Whispers

Label: Alien8

Review date: May. 15, 2006

While no music harbors such a potential for freshness and novelty as improvisation, a long-term collaborative history between musicians often breeds a creative stagnancy, a repetition of themes, techniques and interactions that can become as predictable to listeners as the simplest pop song. Lee Ranaldo and William Hooker, who first joined forces in 1995 and have since released eight recordings, haven’t fallen prey to such torpidity, due mainly to a revolving cast of co-collaborators over the years. Recent releases featured performances with Christian Marclay and Roger Miller, and Oasis of Whispers, recorded live in Buffalo in 2001, marks the first album on which the duo team up with multi-instrumentalist Glenn Hall.

It’s not just Hall’s addition, though, that gives Oasis of Whispers a varied feel. Hall, Hooker and Ranaldo divide the album into a series of more delineated excursions. Only their cover of Sonny Rollins’ “Blue Seven” is a clearly defined song, but each of the disc’s tracks operates as a standalone piece, often defined by the instruments and techniques with which Ranaldo and Hall approach the piece. Hall seems to find a new instrument for each track, and his performances are as varied as his collection of woodwinds. Ranaldo, as he often does in a setting such as this one, treats his guitar as an abstract sound source, rarely eliciting any traditional echoes from its strings. In a return to some of his most successful solo work, Ranaldo also works heavily with collages of audio snippets, at times allowing one voice to slice through the mix, often building a non-linear conversation through a series of samples that serves as an apt metaphor for the album as a whole.

The individual performances that make up Oasis of Whispers aren’t shabby. Though his more electrified playing can be hokey, the breadth of Hall’s work over the course of the disc is impressive. Ranaldo specializes in texture, the most easily overlooked ingredient in most of the trio’s concoctions, but, as any gourmet will tell you, often a meal’s most important quality. Hooker, for his part, doesn’t trod quite so roughshod over the music as he is sometimes wont to do.

But quality solo performances does not good improv make, and here is where Oasis of Whispers falls short. It’s not that the trio isn’t listening; it's just that the moments of genuine three-man performance seem scant. Ranaldo’s use of pre-recorded audio is an obvious culprit, making his contributions sometimes inflexible, forcing others to follow his lead. Ranaldo has used the tactic successfully in the past, but on this occasion it’s the most blatant scapegoat in a performance that, for all its potential, doesn’t live up to expectations.

By Adam Strohm

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