Switched On – Leo Abrahams: Scene Memory II (figureight records)

leo-abrahams

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This is a sequel album at a distance of fifteen years from the original. When Scene Memory I came out in 2006, Leo Abrahams was already proficient in a number of musical forms and styles, but since then he has broadened his horizons by working with Brian Eno, David Byrne, Jon Hopkins and Paul Simon, among many others.

Working from his London studio, Abrahams offers both collaboration and solo work, but until recently has tended to prioritise the former. Scene Memory II sees him return to the solo guitar, and all its sounds are conjured from the instrument in some way.

His approach is one largely borne of instinct and improvisation, inspired by a tour of Siberia undertaken in 2019. Many of the melodic ideas have their origin there, being honed to completion in London.

What’s the music like?

There is an intriguing balance of ambience and tension running through Abrahams’ music. The studied guitar lines that come to the forefront are often complemented by more spacious surroundings, rewarding listeners on headphones or wider screen sound systems. There is always a strong sense of direction in his workings, however, and the guitar is used to generate sounds that are by turns percussive, feather-light, melodic and noise-based.

Spiral Trem is glitchy, with bass drum sounds like stepping stones, somehow wrought from the guitar. Supplicant explores the higher range of the instrument with harmonics, which sound like chimes. Its lines recall a similar state of mind to that found in the early ECM recordings of Pat Metheny. Tithe has a calling towards the start and then flickers intermittently, the pauses between its melodic phrases bringing to mind the more intricate works of John Martyn. Alternations retreats to a distance for its reverberating, languid lines, while Ruins is suitably eerie, turning the guitar into a wordless vocal instrument and losing track of a discernible pulse. Troth, meanwhile, has a more severe language secured through its sharper timbres.

Does it all work?

It does. Abrahams’ work has presence and poise, and makes a powerful impact even in its most restrained moments.

Is it recommended?

It certainly is. Abrahams writes music that becomes more compelling the more time you spend with it. It will be interesting to see how his solo work develops as he spends more time on it over the next few years.

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