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Noël Akchoté - Loving Highsmith

Paul Serralheiro, The Squid's Ear


Novelist Patricia Highsmith was ahead of her time, writing in the 1950s and 1960s about gender issues that are familiar matters of concern these days. Her subject matter was rendered with elements of the mystery and thriller genre and her prose style is in a category of its own, succinct writing filled with eccentric similes, metaphors and evocative images. The tone of her work is remarkable for its honesty and daring.

Not surprisingly, the music for two guitars that serves as soundtrack for the film about her, called Loving Highsmith, now available in a two CD release, involves some quirky creative musicians. Led by guitarist Noël Akchoté, one CD features Akchoté and Mary Halvorson and the other pairs the leader with Bill Frisell. Each disc offers cuts that were used in the film, written and directed by Eva Vitija, as well as alternate takes and other tracks from the sessions that didn't make it to the film soundtrack but which have merit as pieces of music in their own right.

Halvorson and Frisell are giants in the field of improvised guitar music, but the lesser known Akchoté is no slouch! The French guitarist has an impressive discography that includes sessions with masters such as Derek Bailey, Sam Rivers and Evan Parker, to mention but a few. The results of the meeting of these guitarists (acoustic AND electric axes in tow) are for the most part pieces imbued with strong dramatic interest, as well as musical phrasing and contrapuntal elaborations of a pleasing kind. The guitars seem mostly unprocessed, but there are the familiar loopy and detuned tricks that are part of the Halvorson sound. As for the CD with Frisell, another effects maestro, the result is an equally engaging set of miniature pieces featuring the poly-timbral and multicoloured palette of Frisell's sound.

While the disc seems mostly composed of improvised pieces, there are also a number of standards, like "What is This Thing Called Love?" "Just Friends," "You've Changed," and even one bluegrass staple by Ralph Stanley, "Death is Only a Dream." The residual effect of Akchoté sound's is one that is spindly and adventurous, with a strong narrative character, and he has found two collaborators who also work strongly in this vein, so the session is a success overall both as film music and as music for reflective listening.