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The Masthead

In the standard constellation of rock music, the guitarist is at the centre of the universe. The instrument is the touchstone from which songs flow, and the focus of gigs with the player centre stage. Guitars fit the body and move with it, an extension of the person and personality.

Which makes guitarist Daniel Bachman’s 2021 album Axacan refreshing. His instrument is elusive and fugitive, its rippling notes often to the side of the stereo spectrum or buried beneath humming sounds of nature or domestic routines. The guitar disappears for long stretches, forcing the listener to search for meaning elsewhere, before it reappears with uncanny weight or texture, filtered through obscure recording mediums or strange acoustics. Axacan is like stumbling across a disturbed room and trying to deduce what happened there, and why and where the people went.

Bachman was born and raised in Fredricksburg, Virginia. Axacan, named after a colony that Spain tried to establish in the area in the 16th century, was recorded in various locations in the state, and meditates on its many stains of colonial history. Bachman is a prolific player in the guitar network that runs up the East Coast, a scene which was a bit of a lifeline for me through the early pandemic period. Every Friday night, Ted Lee’s Feeding Tube Records hosted a small online event named QuaranTunes, where several dozen people would sit on a Zoom call and, after some poetry by Wire columnist Byron Coley, watch a living room performance beamed in by instrumentalists such as Dredd Foole, Joanne Robertson, Loren Connors, Powers/Rolin Duo, etc. After a wearying week confined to the house, I’d watch these performances on my phone as I went to bed late at night in the UK, letting the hypnotic guitars and the promise of community and creativity on the net lull me to sleep.

Axacan is part of the same guitar lineage, but it ambitiously widens the frame. You hear not just Bachman and his instrument, but the space he is part of and his relationship with it. In the American Primitive tradition, the focus is often on the dexterity of the guitarist, but Bachman’s recordings are more like situations convened which are open to coincidence and discovery. There is an admission and an affirmation on the part of the artist that some things are inevitably out of their control.

Which makes it fitting for these times. The question that has hung over the music scene in the second half of 2021 is where we are now. Venues across Europe, The Americas and elsewhere are starting to reopen, and there is a collective desire to hear music again. But with different restrictions on opening times, permissible activities and even styles of music that can be played in different areas, not to mention everchanging windows for who can travel, the fabric of music culture is fragile and tenuous. We cannot forge the connections and communities that make it such a powerful social force.

In his Jazz & Improv chart in our Rewind 2021 issue looking back on the year, Bill Meyer reflects that many musicians “took the urge to play out quite literally. Tony Malaby played regular concerts under a New Jersey turnpike bridge, and Dave Rempis returned to Chicago’s Margate Park as soon as the weather got tolerable… when Berlin’s clubs reopened, they opened the windows so that folks could listen from outside while maintaining social distance.”

If there is something good to come out of this stage of the pandemic, it might be that these kind of in-between spaces and experiences, which are inclusive and connected to the fabric of public places, are ready to be explored through sound and performance. Axacan helps show the way. Derek Walmsley


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Issue 455 January 2022 £5.95 ISSN 0952-0686

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