A couple years back, a good friend of mine told me that I should really check out the music of Arthur Russell. It was just about that time that Audika had re-released the brilliant World Of Echo, and I fell in love with the downright timeless release. After that, I sought out other work of his, and began to appreciate his wide range of largely under-appreciated music, sadly long after he was already gone. He was an artist who could create something as funky as the disco hit "It's All Over My Face," as beguiling as Calling Out Of Context, and as devastating as the aforementioned World Of Echo. When it was announced that Audika was combing through his hundreds of unreleased tapes, I held my breath in anticipation.
First Thought, Another Thought is the latest release in a long line of re-issues of Russell's work, and it's also the first batch of which is instrumental. If you've followed Russell to date, it might be the most confusing as well, but there are still treasures to behold in this sprawling 2CD set of work. Some of the work has already been released in limited forms, but it's the unreleased music that's really the standouts here. Originally composed back in 1974, "Instrumentals Volume 1" (which is actually ten different pieces) was envisioned as a 48-hour musical cycle to accompany the nature photos of Yuko Nonomura. On the release, the ten pieces feel somewhat rough, usually starting with a count-in and often ending just as they seem like they're getting going. That said, they're absolutely stunning in places. with lovely percussion, horns, guitars, and a loose improvisational feel that bleeds them all together into one uplifting suite of gentle music that sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a sunny, temperate morning.
"Instrumentals Volume 2" shifts pretty dramatically in feel, dispensing with percussion after the opening piece and evolving into longer, droning pieces that incorporate horns and overlapping tones in a much more dour way. The long "Reach One," which closes the first disc, seems to be an even further extension of that idea, with reverberating Rhodes organ notes pushing outward over a bleak landscape.
The second disc of the set continues with some of his more experimental work, and "Tower Of Meaning" (which comprises seven tracks and over forty minutes) continues with a more droning, textural feel, and a gloominess that's just plain hard to shake. Tracks end abruptly, due to lost master tapes, and the result is something that's devastating at times, yet slightly frustrating in execution. "Sketch For The Face Of Helen" goes even further, mixing a field recording of a tugboat firing up with some minimal electronics that sounds far ahead of its time. While it's definitely not his best work to date, First Thought, Best Thought is another entry in what will hopefully be a continuing unearthing of material from the intriguing, stylistically-varied, and amazing Arthur Russell.