Mike Cooper – Fratello Mare (Room40)


English blues and Hawaiian guitarist Mike Cooper‘s love of the Pacific is clearly coloured by the work of exotica mainstay Arthur Lyman, where you can hear birds squawking and cicada’s chattering in the background. There’s even vibes on one track, but Cooper isn’t going for sparse jazz or exotic smoothness like Lyman or Martin Denny, there’s an exploratory feel not only to his compositions, but also to his guitar technique, which varies dramatically for each piece.

Marrying field recordings, with his own instrumentation (mostly extensions of his extended guitar techniques), there’s a looseness to the way he plays, a sparse and kind of ritualistic repetition, where in terms of structures its not making much sense, but the sounds are so seductive and evocative that it doesn’t really matter what he’s doing. In this sense it’s incredibly difficult to place this work in any particular time or place. Cooper is a potpurri of influences and previous lives, stretching back into late 60’s, and you can hear fragments of these, but also possibilities for the future in his music.

There’s a certain sonic wooziness here, a kind of wonky, yet still blissful serenity, as sounds swell up, then drift by, never static, lost in the sonic currents, as Cooper bends and picks at the strings of his national guitar, looping and treating the results over a natural cacophony of birds, cicadas, eve what sounds like a scooter at one point.

It’s one of the warmest sunniest improvised experimental works you will ever hear, there are links to the Pacific not just in name but in temperament. On Fratello Mare Cooper reimagines exotica as an experimental world, where not only the instrumentation, but the timbre and structure also take on exotic forms, creating a peculiar and engaging fourth world work.

This is Cooper’s third tribute album to the Pacific, this time based around the 1975 film Fratello Mare by Italian director Folco Quilici set in Polynesia. He doesn’t consider it a soundtrack as such, more a homage, yet somehow in a form we’ve never heard before for a film we’ve never seen, and for a world that may never have really existed, the sense of nostalgia is palpable. And this is Cooper’s gift.


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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.

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