Music To Blow Your Mind By
At Guitars Exchange we don’t just cover the mainstream acts - great as they are - but like to push the envelope and listen to outstanding guitarists who might never make the charts. That is why we’ve interviewed wonderfully talented artists like Mimi Fox, Badi Assad, and Xuefei Yang in the past, and that is why we are reviewing Blake Mills & Pino Palladino Notes With Attachments (12 March 2021; Impulse) today. We think Mills & Palladino as a team are nothing less than mind-expanding – but will you?
One of the reasons that the duo stretch the limits is that, apart from their guitars, they are fascinated by exploring new sounds, such as those made by a calabash, berimbau, Coral electric sitar, rubberized guitar, ngoni, fixed reeds, clavinet, and timbales. And that selection is from a much reduced list. The result is a sparkling mixture of jazz, folk, soft rock, funk, West African, and Cuban music in which lovely melodies delicately emerge and disappear like mist in a morning valley.
63-year-old Pino Palladino may not be a household name but the Welsh bassist is hugely respected as a session musician having played for example with Eric Clapton, on Paul Young’s Marvin Gaye cover Wherever I Lay My Head, and The Who, after the passing of John Entwhistle in 2002.
Notes With Attachments is Palladino’s first with guitarist Blake Mills (Perfume Genius, Bob Dylan, Alabama Shakes) and is reportedly the result of years of work with other musicians at Sound City studio in Los Angeles. Most of the songs – all instrumental - are less than four minutes long, but even talking about them as ‘songs’ seems a little strange, as they seem in some ways incomplete; yet that doesn’t seem important as the listener is constantly being offered ‘surprise gifts’.
Ekuté is one amazing standout track. Inspired by the Nigerian Afrobeat genius Fela Kuti it features clarinet and saxophone as the two guitarists delightfully bounce off each other. “We were trying to figure out all the different places that one beat or bassline could take you,” Mills said about the song’s development.
Djurkel is another gem, featuring dirty bass, drums, banjo and sax; it starts off as if nothing is going to happen before you realise that your feet are moving along with its seductively funky rhythm. Palladino looks like he is using his Fender Signature Precision Bass on a live version of the track but on the extended 8 minute plus version he is playing a Magnatone hurricane. Whatever; the result is like a springclean for the mind.
Man From Molise reportedly started off as a Palladino piece inspired by Brazilian musician Hermeto Pascoal before Mills added his fairy dust and created something radically new on what appears to be his Gibson ES-330. As Palladino says about Mills’ contribution:"As the project evolved in the first weeks and months and I saw Blake's responses to my ideas, we realized that the album would be a collaborative album."
Notes with Attachments is a record from two incredible musicians who have allowed themselves to ‘walk free’ with their enormously talented friends and colleagues, and see where it takes them. The approach might almost be described as subversive and disruptive, and when you hear what Mills has to say about it, it seems to confirm that perspective: “I think both of us are musically drawn to find some kind of exception to a rule [and, specifically,] not to cater to its typical sensibilities, whether that was stylistically, with the arrangement, with the mix, with instrumentation. Once we caught a scent of something, we’d start heading in the opposite direction to see what we might find.” And on this showing what they found stretches the envelope of musical creativity, and can legitimately be described as mind-blowing.