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Elton Dean/Mark Hewins: Bar Torque

Somewhat of a gearhead, MIDI-guitarist Mark Hewins has even been enlisted to produce sampler library software and demo tunes for Casio featuring his instrument. The experience must have left mark on Hewins: As he marches his way through one completely unguitarlike sound after another on Bar Torque, its hard to believe you’re not hearing a MIDI demo.

The guitarist solos very rarely and almost never plays anything that might be confused for traditional guitar accompaniment. Throughout the recording, Hewins crafts continually morphing soundscapes, drones and largely static harmonic patterns utilizing sounds ranging from birdsong, to seaspray, to a synthesized chorus. With the exception of a few strange intervals and a bit of bass-guitarlike string tapping, Hewins’ contributions are pacific and new agey enough to double as meditation music.

Hewins largely looses himself in his synthworld, and his interaction with the alto saxophonist/saxello player Elton Dean ends up a one-way street. The guitarist simply dials up a new sound and throws it out, leaving Dean to decide what, if anything, he plans to do with it. The two do manage some moments of beauty, as when Dean joins Hewins’ flock of birds with some Evan Parker-like trilling of his own. But without the benefit of a responsive partner or even an active harmonic or rhythmic base, Dean runs out of ideas, sits out for stretches and even turns out a few uninspired lines himself.

Originally Published