Review: Simon Thacker + Justyna Jablonska – Karmana

unnamed“I developed a scale,” guitarist Simon Thacker writes in the booklet for Karmana, before correcting himself: “or more accurately, a rather fluid collection of pitches that expands and contracts depending on the expressive need”. In fact, this statement could act as a broad-brush description of the whole record. Expansion and contraction are certainly key implements in the duo’s creative dialogue – guitar solos flower into elaborate cello-aided duets, tempos tighten into accelerated flurries of virtuosity, spaces expand as notes fall into larger and larger silences, with beautiful harmonic shapes (little odes to Thacker’s fascination with Indian raga, or velvet trails of Justyna Jablonska’s cello bow) dissolving into the hush of unspoken intimacy. “Rather fluid” is also accurate. Karmana can be jagged and sudden, with “Ouroboros” embarking on a high-speed chicane between time signatures that unravel and revise themselves, cello vaulting off the plucks of guitar and vice versa. Yet it’s always possible to spot change stirring quietly in the fabric of the music. While some of the swoops from panic to melancholia to anger can feel abrupt of first pass, they’re invariably seamless – pre-empted by slight tweaks to the tonality in the section prior, or the gradual precipitation of longer notes before a slower, more deliberate passage of slumber.

Such deft foreshadowing wouldn’t be possible if Thacker and Jablonska weren’t so intensely synchronised. The most mesmeric aspect of Karmana is how the duo align and swerve away from eachother. It’s like a dancer in a mirror, albeit with the reflection straying disobediently into twirls of autonomous artistic licence, occasionally leading the performance and goading the dancer into keeping step. By the time I reach the latter part of the album –featuring re-imaginations of traditional pieces and collaborations – I start to perceive them as separate limbs of the same entity, performing separate functions in the fulfilment of a coherent, singular purpose. They toss and catch the voice of Masha Natanson like a blanket, rippling frantically beneath her in ascending runs and galloping rhythmic motifs. Even in the chop-and-change editing of “Ruaigidh Dorchadas/The Highland Widow’s Lament”, which wrenches the tape into reverse and whirls the instruments all around the stereo frame, Thacker and Jablonska hold on tight to eachother, connected in a manner that withstands the cyclone of instrumental FX. They are one, and in listening to Karmana enough, I start to feel that connection within me too.