Always attuned to unusual choices that keep his listeners guessing, guitarist Eric Hofbauer knows no bounds when it comes to his repertoire. One is as likely to hear a Cyndi Lauper or Nirvana cover as something by Thelonious Monk or Charlie Parker. And his stylistic approach on the guitar is similarly idiosyncratic, with a gutbucket blues as likely to spill forth as something more spikily avant-garde. This unpredictable creativity is once again on display on Remains of Echoes, an enticing duo release with drummer Dylan Jack, that features Hofbauer’s prodigious technique and distinctive genre-crossing acumen. It’s also a highly personal album, in that both players are drawing from sources that shaped them deeply as musicians. The fact that the compositions encompass a wide swath of both the jazz tradition and the pop music world speaks volumes about the far-ranging origins of inspiration that have formed these artists.
The first thing noticed in listening to these ten tracks is the amount of space left in the music. In this sense the album’s title refers not just to the “echoes” of the past that can be heard in the material (the title is a quote taken from Jimi Hendrix‘s “Up From the Skies,” the album’s fifth track), but also the resonance and texture that both musicians pry out of their instruments. Rather than just a timekeeper, Jack is determined to coax the broadest range of sounds and timbres he can from his kit. Careful tunings of his toms and the use of a second bass drum allow for a highly nuanced and melodic rhythmic foundation for the album’s opener, Sting‘s “Walking on the Moon.” And his spartan accompaniment on Parker’s “Klactoveedsedstene” turns the busy logic of bebop on its head, with a pared-down approach that puts the emphasis on each stroke of the cymbal and each snare drum hit, rather than keeping a steady, unyielding pulse.
Hofbauer too chooses to let his notes breathe, with a continual emphasis on the content he can tease out of just a few at a time, rather than seeing how many he can cram into a few bars. This allows for a fuller appreciation of his rhythmic dynamism, something that really comes to the fore on Don Cherry‘s “Mopti” or Monk’s “Let’s Call This.” The latter is an especially fine demonstration of Hofbauer’s complementarity with Jack, as the two find the essence of Monk’s melody by skirting it, leaving room for ambiguous gestures that still pack a punch via a suitably off-kilter groove.
For someone who has never shied away from wearing his politics on his sleeve—witness Hofbauer’s previous releases such as American Vanity (Creative Nation Music, 2004) or American Fear! (Creative Nation Music, 2010)—there’s only one moment of overt political engagement here, and it’s Charles Mingus‘ “Fables of Faubus.” Played with the duo’s characteristic panache, the tune is rendered faithfully in the best way possible, giving full voice to its urgency but by tightening and slackening the pulse at will and toying with different rhythmic registers. At over seven minutes in length, it’s also the longest track, and a nonstop ride of invention for these broad-minded musicians—as is the album as a whole.