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Jeff Gburek - The Watermark [Orphan Sound - 2012]

Jeff Gburek's "The Watermark" is an album of sparse, loosely structured ethereal 'neofolk' guitar playing, backed by an organic carpet of bioluminescent improvisatory ambient electronics.  He has been around since 2005, but this is my first exposure to his work.

Gburek's playing is not particularly precise or technical in nature, indeed the essence of his music appears to be very impromptu.  His tone is clean and drenched in reverb, he plays quietly but expressively, nostalgically, and unthinking, as if he could be drunk.  All the tracks are dreamy, at times maudlin introspections which explore similar realms of expanded consonance as jazz fusion, leaning heavily on the minor keys.

The first of the 8 tracks is absolutely wonderful, and the vibrant sounding of the acoustic seems to be glowing.  The several melodic themes are equally beautiful and poignant, and 6 minutes nearly feels too short.  There's a very authentic woodsy, pagan feel to this track.

From there the albums tends into a slower, quieter, sparser direction, and Gburek frequently lets notes hang in space for seconds on end.  Themes are vaguely repeated before trailing into space, and tonal grounding is not as easy to find, but the underlying chord structures are still perceptible beneath the spiralling arpeggi.  The haunting feeling of this music recalls a foggy cemetery, and the quieter passages of older Opeth songs.

The album's weakness is that between the inspired moments there is long passages of what could be aimless bedroom noodling, time wasted where meaning could have taken hold.  Beautiful as the sound of Gburek's guitar is, the record grows monotonous without any variation from the formula.  I find myself wishing he had not insisted on keeping the energy level quite so low.  The album is too slow for active listening in most cases.  I find it better suited for sleeping.

Luckily, the 7th movement does break up the monotony significantly, focusing on a shimmering, flickering high frequency pattern that mirrors a moaning, quavering voice.  It's a truly beautiful track that captures the essence of the nocturnal.  If you're in the mood for a lot of uneventful quiet and silence, this album can be a rare pleasure.

In conclusion, this album has a lovely folksy nostalgic vibe, some very pleasant and memorable chord progressions and ideas, but could use a bit more structure, direction and diversity, maybe even a vocalist.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Josh Landry
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