Anla Courtis - "A-Garden (with Campbell Kneale)" (The Torrid)
Just call him the Carlos Santana of the avant-garde. Much (or not at all) like the Mexican guitarist’s 1999 cheeseball revival, Supernatural, Anla (a.k.a. Alan) Courtis gets a little help from his friends on The Torrid, a collection of collaborations spanning 2003-2008. Some tracks were made in tandem, others were remixed or re-purposed; some span a stage, others an ocean. It’s a veritable grab bag of variety, but, then again, from his time in the irrepressible trio Reynols to his wide-ranging work under his own (reconfigured) name, Courtis has proven himself to be a willful musician-at-arms, proficient in battle with all sorts of unconventional instruments and techniques. On The Torrid, he plays guitar and vocalizes, processes and edits, remixes and is remixed — whatever the situation demands, Courtis is game. Some tracks were recorded live, others via the mail, and no two sound quite the same. The only constant is Courtis.
Courtis’ mother needn’t worry; her son definitely plays well with others. Though The Torrid bears Courtis’ name, it often seems that his co-conspirators are the ones steering the adaptable Argentine’s approach. The moody barbs of “Go-Fi,” a guitar duet with Bill Horist, bear little resemblance to the stormy distorted squeal of “20.000 Volts,” made with MSBR and KK Null, or the dreary digital overcast of “Newsnight 365,” a remix of a track by V/VM. Courtis isn’t a pushover, but he’s also not the stubborn sort of myopic musician who sounds the same no matter the context, as this album illustrates repeatedly. “Harmful Rainstorm,” a remix by Daniel Menche of Courtis’ “Harmonica F’ever” is the only time that someone else is explicitly in the driver’s seat, the original pummeled by a downpour that lets the strains of harmonica through in only hints and slivers until the track’s last minute or so.
To be fair, The Torrid is more Courtis’ Odds & Sods than his Supernatural. It’s an assorted mix of live recordings, unused outtakes and material from projects long ago scuttled. These sorts of collections are notoriously uneven, even more so when they’re collaborations. Hearing Courtis in these varied settings can be rewarding, if frustratingly so. There’s some material here that wouldn’t look too shabby next to Courtis’ best work (a particular standout is “A-Garden,” a doleful twilight duet made long distance with Campbell Keane), but there are some that could’ve been left on the cutting room floor.
The Torrid is a convincing showcase of Courtis’ versatility, but it’s simply not very strong as a whole. There’s no doubt that Anla Courtis remains a musician worth hearing, with some new trick up his sleeve every time he appears; this just might be an installment in Courtis’ quickly growing discography that’s OK to sit out.