The Other World of Henry Kaiser

Henry KaiserWhere Endless Meets Disappearing (Balance Point Acoustics, 2009)

In addition to playing guitar, Henry Kaiser is an oceanographer — as in, serious, university-research oceanographer — and a few years ago, he got a chance to ply both trades in Antarctica.This album, a set of mostly solo guitar improvisations, is a reflection on that alien underwater world.

It’s placid and crystalline, fitting enough. Very pretty stuff — not what you’ll want if you’re looking for the Derek Bailey-influenced side of Kaiser, but even if the weird stuff is your cup of tea, this isn’t an album to miss.

The 12-minute title track opens the album and sets the mood.  Kaiser uses stereo-ized echo effects here to give the illusion of two guitars (14 of the 18 tracks are solo, undubbed).  A single bass note, plucked every now and then, serves as the center of gravity around which Kaiser contently drifts,spinning a slow web of notes. Tiny harmonics glisten like light off the water’s surface. It’s relaxing and deep, great music for Sunday morning coffee.

Kaiser calls this a concept album, and I get the feeling it’s a love letter to the beauty of diving. It definitely has that weightless feeling, as if it’s mimicking the peaceful, muted sounds beneath the ocean’s surface.

Many of the acoustic tracks take on the sound of Hawaiian slack-key guitar, not so much in the note choices but in the overall mood and prettiness.  Kaiser does turn up the electric a few times, though, for some proggy noodling.  “A Precise Kind of Infinity, a Sliver of Clarity Nestled” is mostly pretty and chiming, but the space-exploration electric guitar wail comes in for the second half, for the feel of peering into the infinite. “A Bloom of Tiny Suns” ends the album with criss-crossing electric guitars spiraling outward like a slow-motion sunburst.

A couple of tracks get into “off”-tuning and abrasive dissononace, but they’re in the minority.  The acoustic “I Would Ask” comes up fairly early in the album and is actually a welcome break from the sea of niceness. “The Gate Is That Way, Not This” is the one that will have roommates and spouses running away screaming; it’s an electric-guitar improv with lots of atonality (in the loose, improper sense that jazz critics use) and screechy sounds.

The bulk of this album, though, is really nice, a very rewarding listen.

Random side note: All of the electric-guitar work on the album was performed with a true-temperament neck, which uses squiggly frets to produce more accurately toned scales. Check it out.