For MazzaCane completists, the Holy Grail has been the records he released on his own imprint, Dagget, in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Issued in what were miniscule editions at the time, his distributor sold a sum total of zero of his records. With their CD reissue, a joint venture between Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace and writer Byron Coley's Father Yod labels, we now know why. Quite simply these recordings sound awful. I'm all for primitive or naive playing (see Jandek, Wild Man Fisher, or Arthur Doyle), but this four (!) CD set takes the cake for the biggest waste of silicone this, or any, year. If listening to a person with absolutely no technique moaning while scraping aimlessly on his guitar for more than four hours is your bag, then this is the collection you've been waiting for. Those who feel as though they must hear these recordings should wait for the single CD sampler, cherry-picking the set's "highlights," which is slated for release early in February.
In Bern is a different beast altogether. While MazzaCane's previous recordings have failed to live up to the hype that has been attached to them, this muted and understated live recording from 1997 is a true joy to listen to. Overall In Bern creates a pastoral, dreamy soundscape, spiked with occasional peaks of blazing white-heat intensity that hit head on. Few instrumental guitar performances flow as effortlessly as those that mark this folksy, yet charged recording. John Fahey's Georgia Stomps, Atlanta Struts is one of the few CDs of late to maintain such a similarly sustained, laid-back feel without ever heading for somnabulation. Indeed O'Rourke's own affinity for Fahey's approach comes shining through on this recording; although seemingly completely improvised, upon second listen each piece reveals itself to be carefully thought out. At one point on "Are They Going to Stop?" MazzaCane pulls a piercing buzz-tone from his guitar while O'Rourke carefully picks out a series of notes that interlock perfectly. Certainly the most satisfying MazzaCane disc to date, In Bern is the perfect soundtrack for a sunny, lazy day spent sitting on the porch drinking lemonade. The sublime moments of tension provide just the requisite burst of energy to reach for a refill. Note: True die-hards should track down a new MazzaCane compilation CD on the Japanese label Meme, which contains an additional five minutes from this breathtakingly beautiful concert.