Bill & Ben: William Coulter and Benjamin Verdery
Their space is made of strings - acoustic strings. Strings have their own kind of chemistry, and steel and nylon played together have their own subtle dynamic and exchange. They talk back and forth, like old friends who don't get together as often as they'd like to.
Something original is going on. Part of it is the mix of strings themselves - one guitar strung with steel, another strung with nylon. We seldom hear this. Ben Verdery says that he tried it once before, in a couple of tunes recorded years back with Leo Kottke. It makes a very pleasing mix of textures, like silk laid next to satin. One helps to define the other.
But the more important chemistry is what the performers release in one another as they play. Bill Coulter and Ben Verdery have found a unique and energizing partnership. They first met back in 1984, when Ben was on a west coast tour and performing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Bill, who had recently moved to the region, saw it announced in the local paper. At the time he didn't know much about Ben Verdery. "The concert just sounded interesting," he said. "So I went, and with the first piece I fell in love with this guy's music." Afterward he introduced himself. They started talking and quickly found that they had a lot in common. Ben needed a ride down the hill to his hotel. They had a few beers and kept talking - two young guys who shared a passion for the guitar. Though they lived on opposite sides of the continent, they stayed in touch and performed together for the first time in 1990. Bill had been exploring Celtic music and was putting an album together. He invited Ben to join him on one of the tunes. Three years later they teamed up for two more tunes on another of Coulter's CD's, and afterward started talking, in a general way, about doing more together. It had become a musical relationship they both savored, easy and fluid, with lots of agreement on how arrangements should go and how best to manage such matters as intonation and improvisation, to release the instrument's full range of feeling.
While listening to Bill & Ben's new release, Song for our Ancestors, one will note that most of these tunes have been around for a while, some for centuries. There are family lines, and there are musical lines. Many ancestries and influences converge in these twelve pieces - from Ireland, from Germany, from Spain, Africa, and Tibet. Two were composed by the musicians themselves, and are recorded here for the first time. Bill Coulter's "An Daingean", was written for a seacoast town in the southwest of Ireland. He wrote the piece to celebrate his brother's wedding there and the rare beauties of that place. Ben Verdery's "Keanae", was inspired by a remote peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Yet the sound is fresh.
What we get from Bill & Ben is a guitar performance at its most intimate. There is a heartfulness here, and a meditative quality. Each musician goes inward to his still center, in order to come outward with a shared sound that is masterful yet vulnerable.
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