Alan Bishop is a true musical maverick, who spent years playing, touring and recording with Sun City Girls, one of the most thrilling and versatile bands to emerge from the American post-punk, post-hardcore scene.
Based in Seattle, constantly going off in several directions at once, Alan Bishop (bass), his brother Richard (guitar) and Charles Gocher (drums) celebrated musical freedom by diving headfirst into wild improvisations, world music explorations or rocking noise. They fully embraced the traveling lifestyle, too, and it was during travels through Africa and Asia that Alan Bishop laid the foundations for his label Sublime Frequencies, by recording hours and hours of music, announcements and static from local radio stations and collecting countless tapes and records from stalls, taxis and stores along the way.
Now nearly 50 releases into its existence as a label, Sublime Frequencies represents a musical parallel universe where Thai surf music and Burmese radio stations meet Syria’s folk/pop hero Omar Souleyman and Sahara giants Group Doueh. It is through his work for Sublime Frequencies, that Bishop met and became friends with Lebanese improvising musicians Mazen Kerbaj (trumpet), Raed Yassin (double bass) and Sharif Sehnaoui (electric guitar), who have operated collectively as free jazz unit “A Trio” since 2003. In 2012, during a trip to Beirut to participate in the annual Irtijal Festival for Experimental Music, Bishop entered the studio with Kerbaj, Sehnaoui and Yassin, to lay down the first rough sketches of the “Burj el Imam” album. The album was eventually completed a year later, during another one of Bishop’s frequent visits to the Lebanese capital.
Entirely recorded at Tunefork Studios, a highly esteemed recording studio located on the outskirts of Beirut, “Burj el Imam”’s five tracks include three largely improvised numbers, a loose reworking of early Sun City Girls track “The Imam”, and a cover of traditional Americana song “Gently Johnny”. The album displays remarkable coherence, for 4 musicians coming from such different backgrounds. True to their habits, Kerbaj, Sehnaoui and Yassin create acoustic improvised drones that range from insistent, chiming resonances with emergency alarm bells, to low thrumming hums – evoking helicopter gunships hovering overhead, or bulldozers demolishing bomb-blasted apartments.
The three musicians largely avoid conventional technique, instead using what sounds like motorized devices to generate rattling, metallic vibrations, building a mechanistic backdrop out of which the instruments’ true voices occasionally arise. Perched above the ambient din, Bishop is in fine form, and alternates between gentle crooning and malevolent whispering.
1. Howling Sheep
2. Burj al Imam
3. Smoking Elevator
4. Folk Machinery
5. Gently Johnny