Robert Stillman returns with the Archaic Future Players

Station Wagon ride with John Fahey
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  May 23, 2013

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LIVING LEGACY Robert Stillman pays homage to one of the very best real indie folkers.  

For a guy who plays the saxophone the way people talk about, Robert Stillman is an awful good drummer. And keyboard player. He does a fair bit of impressive composition, too.

The last time the Portland native (now Oxford man) swung through town, in 2009, he was carrying a piano record, Master Box, his first release on his own Archaic Future Recordings. This time through, he's teamed with Apohadion Records on Station Wagon Interior Perspective, a 20-minute four-suite work with a couple of bonus tracks tacked on.

Apohadion is Rustic Overtone (and more) trombonist David Noyes and renaissance man Pat Corrigan's lovechild, and its DIY ethic couldn't be a better fit for Stillman's folk/jazz project, ode as it is to John Fahey, the influential fingerstyle guitarist who was well known for going his own way and doing his own thing from the '60s until his death in 2001.

He was the type of artist releasing his music on his own label back in the 1970s, when such a thing really wasn't done. Cutting a record back then was a bit more of a project. Starting out fairly clean-cut and precise, like the quickly repeating phrases he would pick out on a steel-string acoustic guitar, Fahey got hairier and his music got thornier, delving into heavily reverbed electrified pieces in his late career.

Don't go in expecting the kind of tribute album that Arborea worked out for Robbie Basho, though, with loving odes to his actual playing style.

This is more of a creative response to a life lived (and there actually isn't a note of guitar here). It's noisy and irreverent and unexpected just like the guy Wilco guitarist and Fahey friend Nels Cline remembers dropping trou and taking a leak in front of a folk festival crowd, but also remarkably precise and thought-provoking, just like Fahey's inventive approaches to the guitar fretboard.

Only maybe "Part III: Stomp" could be said to actually sound like a Fahey tune. It has his pacing, a restless forward momentum of repeating phrases, Stillman on the drums to hit an isolated cymbal like Fahey pinging a harmonic. It's hopeful, too, with the horn section (the Archaic Future Players) bringing in a bright sun in descending phrases.

It's like the best backing to any 1970s superhero cartoon there ever was, with Spider-Man and Firestar zipping off to fight a swarm of comet-irradiated bees.

Those horns feature Noyes on trombone, along with Kenny Warren on trumpet, Jeremy Udden on "C melody saxophone" (I put that in quotes to remind you to Google it and learn a bunch of stuff about saxophone inventor Adolphe Sax), and Benjamin Stapp on tuba.

The latter instrument is a significant presence and has a lot to do with why Stillman's arrangements sound so novel.

"Part III" isn't much of a "stomp" when it comes down to it, at least not like you'd expect. And neither is "Part I: Waltz" much of a classical waltz, or "Part II: Blues" much like what comes out of the guitars of Buddy Guy and BB King.

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