Much like that of jazz in the '40s and '50s, collaboration in current experimental music circles translates into peculiar auto-currency. When a relatively unknown musician works with one of the titans of his or her avant subdivision (say a Ken Vandermark or a Merzbow), the work of the neophyte suddenly (superficially!) carries a little more weight, a little more leeway for validation. It sometimes seems like pure résumé building for a creative sect you'd hoped was above careerism.
Brooklyn's Raymond Raposa, who leads a loose and revolving band of improvisers he calls Castanets, is no titan, but it's increasingly apparent that—in the new American school of songwriters mining folk superstructures with experimental tools—Raposa is among the best. On stage, though, Raposa's brightest ideas often come stymied by new recruits, instrumental enthusiasts who perform like they discovered improvisation at lunch. Jesse Ainslie felt like an exception: Onstage with Castanets, Ainslie was a capable guitarist with a keen sense of texture, plus the experience and imagination to wield his toolkit toward uncommon accomplishment.
Ainslie is a Chapel Hill-bred guitarist who headed to New York to study music and writing, eventually joining Castanets and touring with the band several times. He's returned South indefinitely, playing his Triangle debut in mid-June: Like that set, Thanateros—Ainslie's first solo offering under the name Barghest—articulates potential payoffs and problems of bending folk forms free of tradition by routing borrowed, primitive motifs through pedal chains to build chimerical voicings and distended structures. Ainslie has a deep, resonant baritone voice, and, here, he perpetuates his reputation as a fine instrumentalist. His clawhammer banjo run through "The Shoes of the Farmer's Wife Are Just as Jive" is perfectly buoyant but mysterious, and the patience he shows in sifting through the 14-minute drone that eventually overruns it indicates his work with electronics is committed, even if developing.
But Ainslie's sense of timing feels overly self-involved: There's not enough going on tonally or texturally (for the former, see the paralyzing drones of The Hafler Trio; for the latter, see Mike Tamburo's excellent Ghosts of Marumbey from last year) to justify his long tones. To wit, the ends often seem more like expirations than conclusions. Much like some of the superfluous complexities Ainslie marries to his solid simple-song core, the poetry here hinges on affected sleights of hand—growing flowers that are fake, over-dialectic Appalachian accounts of things that happened at the depot, conflicted ennui and anxiety. Still, there'd better be accounting for some excess and error in experimental music. This has that—and several signs of promise, too.