Loren Connors & David Grubbs

Häpna H.13, CD
5 tracks, 34 minutes
Listen to: “Blossom Time” (excerpt)
Reviews of “Arborvitae”
Release date: October 2003

The most surprising part is that it hadn’t happened before.

Loren Connors and David Grubbs first performed as a duo on May 30, 2003 at the Green-Wood Cemetery Chapel in Brooklyn, N.Y. Green-Wood Cemetery is one of Brooklyn’s landmarks - it’s the highest natural point in the borough, and an unexpected expanse of tranquility in the midst of the city. The stone interior of the chapel makes the quietest of sounds audible, and Loren and David played a remarkably quiet yet extraordinarily varied hour of improvised music. Energized, they repaired to the studio to record “Arborvitae”.

It certainly could have happened earlier. David first heard Loren’s “In Pittsburgh” LP (St. Joan) in 1990, and felt it a revelation. Loren’s example of creating silences, of singing - with the guitar - in silences, was crucial to David’s shift from the rock trio Bastro to the often percussionless Gastr del Sol. David and Jim O’Rourke reissued “In Pittsburgh” several years later on their Dexter’s Cigar label, and Loren and Gastr del Sol performed a number of shows on the same bill, including the 1996 Table of the Elements Yttritum festival in Chicago. Jim produced the self-titled “Hoffman Estates” album (Drag City), which featured a core duo of Loren and Alan Licht surrounded by the cream of Chicago’s improvisers. But never the twain did meet and play in duo until this year.

“Arborvitae” opens and closes with the pairing of David on piano and Loren on an electric guitar played so quietly that at times his pedal-stomping is wondrously distinct. “Blossom Time” and the title track positively float, with Loren alternating between soaring single-note lines and playing the rough, barnacled anchor to David’s relentless tide. David’s approach to the piano recalls his playing on Palace’s “Arise Therefore” (Drag City) and his own “Banana Cabbage, Potato Lettuce, Onion Orange” (Table of the Elements). Loren hypnotizes throughout. This is one of the rare instances in his career that he’s recorded in a commercial studio, and his playing time and again rewards such a detailed representation. “The Ghost of Exquisite” and “Hemlock Path” are two slow-motion lockings of guitar horns. “The Highest Point in Brooklyn” isn’t the place to be in an electrical storm - but it rolled in all of a sudden and there we were, uncovered and open to the elements...

“Arborvitae” proudly features cover artwork by the mercurial, demanding Cologne artist Michael Krebber.


Loren began releasing his first LPs in 1978 on his own Daggett imprint. He has appeared on more than fifty albums under the names Loren MazzaCane, Loren MazzaCane Connors, Loren Mattei, and Guitar Roberts, many of these with the vocalist and songwriter Suzanne Langille. He has performed with a virtual who’s who of contemporary guitarists - John Fahey (who praises Loren in his forthcoming book “Vampire Vultures”), Thurston Moore, Henry Kaiser, Jim O’Rourke, Rafael Toral, Alan Licht, Dean Roberts, and numerous others. In 1999 Glass Eye Books published “Autumn’s Sun”, Connors’s first trade publication.

David Grubbs has been releasing records since 1982, but he’s not as old as you’d think. He was a member of the groups Squirrel Bait, Bastro, and Gastr del Sol, and has appeared in that famous non-membership organization The Red Krayola. He ran the Dexter’s Cigar label with Jim O’Rourke, and now directs Blue Chopsticks, which has released recordings by Luc Ferrari, Derek Bailey and Noël Akchoté, Workshop, Mats Gustafsson, and others. David’s 2000 album “The Spectrum Between” was named ‘Album of the Year’ in the London Sunday Times. His upcoming releases include a FatCat Split Series 12’’ with Avey Tare and an edition for the EN/OF label.

Personnel: Loren Connors: electric guitar; David Grubbs: piano, electric guitar

Tracks: 1. Blossom Time, 2. Arborvitae, 3. The Ghost of Exquisite, 4. Hemlock Path, 5. The Highest Point in Brooklyn

“This studio meeting between avant garde guitarist Loren (Mazzacane) Connors and former Jim O´Rourke accomplice David Grubbs is a heaven blessed match. The music they make together is equally divinely inspired, although more small concert hall than full-on gospel choir. Recorded in June 2003 in Brooklyn, New York, Connors´s mournful, atmospherically drenched guitar rubs amiably against the side of Grubbs´s studied piano excercises in the opening "Blossom Time". At times, the drawn out process makes it feel as though a game of musical chess is in progress, with Connors and Grubbs carefully pondering each move in order to avoid creative checkmate. Grubbs also adds electric guitar to the session which, unlike Connors´s brooding spiderweb of sound harks back to the well spaced, sturdy chord changes that dominated the music of John Fahey during his final years. On "The Ghost of Exquisite", a form of rock guitar can be heard echoing in the freezing mix, but for the most part Arborvitae slowly leaks into the higher church of contemporary classical in the lofty way it presents itself. Beautifully performed and recorded, this addictive music demands a rematch in the not too distant future.”
Edwin Pouncey, The Wire

“It seems like these two should have recorded together before. But Loren Mazzacane Connors and David Grubbs played their first duo concert on May 30, 2003 and went into the studio to record this album a little less than a month later. It is a short set, 34 minutes flat, but it exerts a constant fascination. It is amazing how such slow, silence-filled music can keep you on the edge of your seat. It seems it should be a relaxing listen and maybe if you don't pay close attention it can be just that. But if you do pay attention, you'll notice that the music gets redefined with every note or chord played, which makes it unpredictable. And free. Connors plays his electric guitar throughout, shifting between floating singled-out notes and overdriven walls of crunch — sometimes only the warning sign of a pedal being stomped is the only thing separating the two. Grubbs plays the first two pieces at the piano, then moves to electric guitar for two and sits back at the grand for the last number. His guitar playing is friendly to Connors' mood swings: delicate, nonintrusive, yet influential in the course of the piece. At the piano he distillates ersatz of melodies post-rock style, i.e. following a severe “less is more" approach while keeping in touch with tonality. In “The Highest Point in Brooklyn" he switches to tempestuous chord ripples to match the intensity of Connors' overdriven drone — the finale is graced by a timely ambulance passing by in the street, you can hardly make it out as the last piano chord dies out. Except for the last 30 seconds of “Hemlock Path," there is not a weak moment on Arborvitae. If you are allergic to post-rockish dreaminess be warned, but otherwise please step in. There are delights awaiting.”
Rated 4/5, François Couture, All music guide

“The late morning autumn sky is grey, at least as much of it that can be seen past the tops of the tall buildings. People walk by in slow motion. A bird hangs in what looks like suspended animation, waiting to pounce on the next piece of bread somebody drops or a knish that falls from a moving cart. The collaborative record between Connors and Grubbs isn't a pretty walk in the fields, it's the sound of a dark, urban cityscape. It's also a bit of a juxtaposition. While there's certainly no rules either collaborator always follow, I'm typically used to dissonance from David Grubbs' solo work and soft flowing motions from Loren (MazzaCane) Connors. The instrumental live in the studio recording of Arborvitae opens with soft, flowing piano chord progressions provided by David and harsh guitar tones from Loren. (Additionally, the titles suggest a springtime theme, but I get a completely different feeling.) As the daylight comes to an early end, so reflects the mood of the album. Bit by bit, the brightness fades. Half-way through the disc, on "The Ghost of Exquisite," both are playing guitars and feeding off each other's bleak tonality. By the end of the album, the cold night has fallen. "The Highest Point in Brooklyn" features the return of Grubbs on piano, this time, with a much more uneasy, uncomfortable rush, played up against the distorted abrasive notes of Connors' guitar, restless and dirty. In fact, at some points, Connors sounds like he doesn't even care if the instrument cords even come loose from his guitar. The room sounds, probably picked up by the piano microphone, are those of two people getting a little antsy in their chairs. Intentional or not, it's a subtle hint at a tension, yet by the end of the piece (and the album), the calmness has returned. The night has grown as quiet as it's going to get in a city that doesn't sleep.”
Jon Whitney, Brainwashed

“The performances and recording quality of Connor's releases have gotten better in the last couple years as (or because) his output has slowed. This, along with the two volumes of Departing of a Dream on Family Vineyard, is one of his warmest, most engaging discs to date.”
Kurt Gottschalk, The Squid’s Ear