SHADES OF GRAY

The magical playing of Darin Gray expands the palette of the bass guitar

The best You Fantastic! release, Pals, is a stunning, visionary piece of work centered around one beautifully skewed Garrigan guitar line repeated over and over. Not rock, not jazz, not classical, it exists in its own musical world. The most recent, unbearably long (at least in relation to the quickie debut, Riddler, and the similarly short Pals) Homesickness is a mess of tape cuts, pure noise, gorgeous melody and conversations culled from the entirety of their work together. But the mess also illustrates the remarkable scope of the band. "Thymme Jones did Homesickness. He put that entire record together. It's funny, because he put that together without very much support even from me and Tim. He sent us a version, we got together, we listened to the tape, we picked what we liked and then Thymme started assembling it from Chicago. He sent us a rough mix tape, and we were just not getting it at all. We were bummed out and pretty much groaned when we talked to (him). It wasn't that we hated it, but it was really tough to listen to. Thymme got my feedback; I did everything but send him death threats. It was really a tough time."

Gray has been working closely with the exquisite New York guitarist MazzaCane Connors, improvising as a duo both locally and, monthly, at the Knitting Factory in New York City. Their first release together, The Lost Mariner, is due in stores this month. The prolific MazzaCane Connors has worked with Sonic Youth guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, has collaborated with fellow guitarist Alan Licht (they recorded the stunning Hoffman Estates CD, on which Gray also appears, last year) and is one of the most emotive, introspective solo electric guitarists working in music today.

"I remember reading about him a long time ago in (the seminal Boston music magazine) Forced Exposure when he used to record as Guitar Roberts, and I remember then looking for his records, (but) I never could find them and I kind of just gave up after a while. When I was in Europe, I think in '93, with Brise-Glace, a friend of mine was playing his music and it just really struck me, something I really felt. And it had been a long time since I had heard something that really touched me that deeply — it tied a lot of things that were sort of loose knots. All of the music that I had kind of been into kind of all came together for me when I heard this music — just the fact that it wasn't a bad thing to be emotional and express yourself."

On The Lost Mariner, Gray and Mazza-Cane Connors improvise seemingly with one mysterious mind. Neither leads, neither follows. Rather, the guitar and bass float along melodically in a sort of beautiful, pensive netherworld. The seven pieces are abstractions, but not in a messy Jackson Pollock kind of way; they're more like Mark Rothko paintings, gentle but powerful, neat without being rigid. Live, Gray still exists in his "zone," but he no longer has the anger on his face that was always evident while he was playing with Dazzling Killmen. Now his features are softer, as if he's in a creative world that's no longer threatening but still retains a sense of danger and curiosity.

Gray's improvisations, both solo and with collaborators, take a steady ear and patience to appreciate. Seldom does his music have the in-your-face impact of his work with Dazzling Killmen. Instead, he stretches the density over the course of long musical examinations, and the results are, at times, initially allusive. In a bar setting, their relative silence and pace seem incongruous with the atmosphere — this music would be best heard in a concert hall, or in recording. But the music seeps into the psyche, its density penetrating deep and revealing itself over time. It's gorgeous music.

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