Steve Tibbetts’s ‘Life Of’ Is Both Endlessly Expansive and Deeply Intimate
By Denin Koch, Contributing Writer, June 14, 2018
Guitarist Steve Tibbetts’ long association with ECM has produced nine albums that span influences from Southeast Asian gamelan to Americana to jazz fusion. His 2018 release, Life of, is a quiet, meditative record that Tibbetts describes as a “sequel” to 2010’s Natural Causes. With the aid of long-time collaborators Marc Anderson on percussion and Michelle Kinney on cello, Tibbets has here produced a record that is both endlessly expansive and deeply intimate.
Life of‘s dreamy, swirling atmosphere is achieved through the unusual instrumentation of a 12-string Martin guitar, Balinese gong samples, piano, handpan, various percussion instruments and cello drones. Through improvisational interaction and restraint, the trio of Tibbetts, Anderson and Kinney manage to create a new, unfamiliar sonic space for the listener to explore within each three-minute track. Equally important to the sound of the record is Tibbetts’ production sensibility. The sound of the record is vast, as though each sound emerges from nowhere and slowly fades into nothingness again.
Asked about the sound and approach of Life of and Natural Causes, Tibbetts says, “I suppose nostalgia inevitably creeps into life at middle age, so it’s fitting that these two records are more about quiet, acoustic reflection and less about shredding on electric guitar, as with [previous records] A Man About a Horse and The Fall of Us All.” Ten of these tracks are named for loved ones or individuals whom Tibbetts has encountered and observed throughout his life. Even though many of these tracks were named after the compositions had been completed, they lend a personal feel to otherwise formless music. By the end of each piece, the listener feels almost as if they have known someone whom they have never met but can somehow remember from long ago.
Life of is a carefully crafted and peaceful record that rewards repeated listening and total attention. Steve Tibbetts has created music that is simultaneously all-encompassing and immediate, and invites listeners to step into the life of another for a brief time.
Cover: Steve Tibbetts; photo: Diane Waller.