It has been eight years since Steve Tibbetts gave us the fiery electric guitar album “A Man About A Horse” (ECM 1814). Now he returns with a different kind of recording: an album of, primarily, acoustic sounds. The making of “Natural Causes” took place in a period when Tibbetts was reconsidering some fundamental aspects of his art and craft - in parallel with daily studies of Bach, Bartók, and music theory. Examining those giants up close made it doubly difficult to go about business-as-usual in his own work. “After some hours, my ears would be wide open...and disinclined to the prospect of blasting electric guitar. So I stuck with my dad’s Martin D-12-20 12-string. I wanted to keep things simple. I thought maybe I could find a voice in well-played single-string lines and say more with less - like Sultan Kahn perhaps. That was the intent, even though the music usually mutated into complex little cathedrals.”
The music of Sultan Kahn has been a reference for Tibbetts
since the mid-90s and the experience of witnessing a revelatory concert that brought the Indian sarangi master to Saint Paul. “Since then I have taken the singing, voice-like quality of his sarangi as my example. Over months and years of playing the frets were ground down on my 12-string and it began to sound more and more like the sarangi. The frets are nearly flat now. The guitar is about 45 years old and has a mellow, aged sound to it. I set up that guitar so that the strings are in double courses. I set them in unisons. This makes it possible to find (for me) a more “singing” tonality in single string lines.“
Percussionist Marc Anderson has worked with Tibbetts since 1977 and is featured on all of his ECM recordings. He has also played with Don Cherry, Taj Mahal, Prince, Robert Fripp, Butch Morris and David Sylvian, amongst many others, made in-depth studies of African drumming, and appeared on more than 150 albums, including his own recordings as a leader.