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TIM SPARKS

Tim Sparks

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24 Hours Magazine
April, 2000
by Doug Spencer

Tim Sparks
Neshamah
web: www.birdland.com.au


I'd never even heard OF Tim Sparks. Bill Frisell has long been one of my favorite guitarists. On this album's wrapper Bill declares: "totally beautiful and inspiring music. Tim Sparks is incredible, a complete original". Once I had heard this quietly phenomenal album I was in total agreement with Bill, amazed that someone so good could be so "invisible", and eager to discover more. I now know that Leo Kottke says "I'm Tim Sparks' biggest fan". Like Leo, I particularly admire the way Sparks uses his prodigious technique only to truly musical ends. If Tim responds to my email, "The Planet" will be more than slightly pleased to present his other recordings to Australian listeners (Lucky Oceans is your genial host, presenting "The Planet" on Radio National each weekday afternoon from 2.15 to 4. It's repeated much later each day, from 11.15 pm. Our website fully details everything played: abc.net.au/rn/music/planet/planet.htm }
    Only "Neshamah" is readily available in Australia, but I'd just love to hear his others. They include solo guitar renditions of Bela Bartok, some traditional Balkan pieces and his own compositions which draw on sources from the blues to Brazil. He's reportedly an excellent player of the oud and has recently been studying the guitarra portuguesa...
    Many of those elements are audible on this set of fingerstyle, steel-string acoustic guitar solos. Recorded at John Zorn's invitation, "Neshamah" is subtitled "Songs From the Jewish Diaspora". Tim is a brilliant, subtly audacious arranger and improvising player. Nothing sounds forced or gimmicky, but his interpetations are quietly breathtaking in their eclecticism and assurance. The songs come from diverse sources - from Yemen through to Tin Pan Alley - and the palette is expanded further by Tim. He typically treats a song's core with respect, whilst gracefully bringing to it various of his diverse enthusiasms. In his tracknote to "Kad Jawajuni" Tim says he's simultaneously trying to distil the spirit of the Israeli singer from whom he learned the Yemeni song, whilst deploying a rhythm from northeastern Brazil and having both Africa and the Indian Ocean in mind. That may read like the proverbial dog's breakfast, but the piece sounds absolutely beautiful.
    Tim's at least the peer of Leo, of Bill... of just about any other creative guitarist one cares to mention. He never plays a superfluous note, but sometimes he'll certainly leave just about anybody wondering "how on earth is he doing all that?" He's also a master of the exquisite use of just a few notes. Listen to the second half of the album's final cut (but listen to its more obviously intricate first half, first!}. It's a poignant Ladino song of farewell, one which many Australians have heard Mara Kiek sing {as "Tu Madre"}. A few years ago - in Sarajevo - it was sung to each other by evacuees and those who stayed. Even with no knowledge of the song or its history, surely any sensitive listener would be moved by the way Tim's guitar "sings" it.

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