Guitar lopsider Mike Cooper has been making some of the best improvisations of the last lifetime. At seventy-five years old he's still finding extraordinary new non-shapes to mould his lap steel into, here joining Lawrence English's room40 imprint for a record of discombobulated ambient music that strains and stutters but always sounds gorgeous. Inspired by Pacific music, this record sounds like the calm of a sea when living on its surface.
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- Raft by Mike Cooper
9/10 Robin Staff review, 19 July 2017
Seventy-five year old experimental blues legend Mike Cooper is making his best record now. ‘Raft’ is an immaculately crafted and deeply personal avant-garde work that brings his lap steel guitar to a halt, glitching and tampering until his movements become ripples on the surface of the sea.
A longtime visitor and resident of the Pacific, Mike Cooper’s passion for the region’s blues comes to the fore on this record of treacling guitar abstractions, his processing creating a mix of core melodies and arpeggio-like counter-tumblings. Having made field recordings and ambience on the side of his guitar work, this record serves as a gorgeous combination of his two artistic approaches. You can hear his guitar work, but the electronic ornamentation makes these works ultimately tranquil -- like a boat gently rocking in its place.
On its harsher moments, such as the chiming “Malama Honua”, Cooper’s discordant drones are still supplemented by a sense of quiet living, with conversations sampled through the backdrop. “Honey Hunters”, with its resonant percussion and mildew noise fragments, is ultimately undisturbed, Cooper’s occasional guitar plucks moving through what sounds like a sleeping outback.
A record rooted in a personal context we often forget an instrumentalist such as Cooper might have, ‘Raft’ is dedicated to his old friend and colleague Jim, who dedicated himself to building a boat which caught fire and led to the death of his two children. It’s a touching homage on perhaps the most beautiful and moving Cooper record I’ve ever heard -- one that sounds both personal to its maker and welcoming to its listener, opening itself up to the world the way he has all these years.
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