When a musician?s reputation is based on being a virtuoso it?s often tiresome to listen to their music. When the focus of something is based on technical prowess rather than artistic intent it quickly becomes a pointless exercise. In a grand attempt at displaying his skill the virtuoso places his ego above musical substance resulting in a performance that quickly decays into a dazzling yet meaningless display of talent. Knowing this, it would be easy to say that Sir Richard Bishop?s new recording of solo acoustic guitar pieces is just that ? a vehicle to showcase his remarkable talent. Fortunately, ?Improvika? is none of these things. While it can?t be disputed that Bishop is a remarkable talent, he should be applauded for recording an album of virtuoso guitar music that has a focus not on skill but sound and composition.
Much like the Sun City Girls? music, the nine compositions of ?Improvika? are influenced by folk music of all corners of the world with the music of India and the Middle East playing particularly prominent roles. This is not, however, post-modern pastiche or multicultural collage. Quite the contrary, it is something that synthesizes all these disparate elements into something wholly new. Bishop has a somewhat improvisational rhythmic language that is all his own as well as a compositional sense that (even if these pieces are, in fact, improvisations as the title might suggest) carries this album easily through its 45 minute running time.
It?s unclear what role Bishop?s interest in the occult plays on this album but listening to ?Improvika? it?s hard not to believe this is the sound of a possessed man playing guitar. Bishop?s music has an austere and pristine quality to it that makes him an absolute pleasure to listen to and, unlike some of his contemporaries, I could listen to him play for hours without ever tiring. With many tracks sounding very similar to Indian Raga there is an unspoken spiritual, almost trance-like aspect to this music that is at once arresting and sublime. Sir Richard Bishop is not only a master of his instrument but also a master of the craft of music itself, displaying knowledge and wisdom far beyond that of most music being made today. ?Improvika? is a true gem. 8/10 -- Nick Hennies (25 May, 2005)