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South Dakota by way of New York

Two Guys From South Dakota
Two Guys From South Dakota
By Bruce Arnold and Mike Miller

Muse Eek: 2004

By Bruce Arnold and Olivier Ker Ourio

Muse Eek: 2005

This review first appeared in Turbula in May 2005.

Guitarist Bruce Arnold has released two new duet albums on his own Muse Eek label. Each features Arnold in the intimate setting of an acoustic duet – one with harmonica player Olivier Ker Ouiro, and the other with fellow guitarist Mike Miller.

In the setting with Miller, the two guitarsts meander through a half-dozen covers and originals. "Meander" is probably the right word, because the shortest cut is 6 and a half minutes.

While the titles are familiar on the covers, the melodies here aren't the focus; you may not even recognize John Coltrane's "Giant Steps," Oscar Hammerstein's "All The Things You Are" or Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce." The memorable themes of these songs are lost in the improvisational lines the two men create, creating something much more akin to free-form improvisational jazz than a set of covers.

No Ornette Coleman, Arnold's solos are closer to early George Benson (when he still improvised) than the intricadies of, say, Joe Pass. Mostly linear and often deliberate, both Arnold and Miller play with a solid approach that does at times become a bit too staid, their reworkings of the melodic theme more interpolation than extrapolation. There's a never sense of just letting loose – an air of pent-up emotions waiting to burst out.

With Ourio, Arnold's own playing changes in the new environment. To balance the strong tones of Ourio's chromatic harp (the kind Stevie Wonder plays, as opposed to the diatonic most blues musicians play), Arnold's guitar playing becomes more folky, somewhat forceful in his picking.

Ourio plays a slow, carefully measured style. It is charming, but not particularly memorable.

The material they cover are all originals by Arnold. Of them, the sprightly "Spurge Jam" is the most instantly agreeable. The others are quiet, introspective pieces somewhere between the new age of pianist Liz Story and the avant-folk of John Fahey.