Sir Richard Bishop’s approach to album creation must be something like brewing a potion. Sometimes you need poisonous mandrake root; sometimes you need a lock of a virgin’s hair, plucked at midnight on the full moon; sometimes you just need cold spring water. It all depends on what the recipe calls for, and with such strange ingredients, who could blame a little improvisation (if your Abramelin oil is a little thick, a little extra olive oil won’t dilute it too much). Some would say that this method lacks organization or rationale, but those who do misunderstand the product. Of course it does. Intermezzo’s internal harmony results from acts of collection and exploration, not an uncompromising pre-ordained structure.
Bishop’s skill consists in feeling exactly where any piece should go. This process primarily involves mindfulness as opposed to an apparatus of music theory. Here, the guitarist acts as a conduit, allowing music to flow through the filter of his hands to the strings. Each piece is a kind of vector, a force that pushes Bishop in a direction and flows through his guitar, and through the friction of the creative process, works itself out completely by its conclusion. This method (if method is an appropriate term) lends itself to a variety of styles, but it’s most appropriate in explorations of a solo instrument.
Intermezzo parades this variety in its myriad forms. Bishop has always been a capable purveyor of the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink “genre” as exemplified in Sun City Girls’ many albums. We recognize strains as disparate as Spaghetti Western soundtrack, flamenco, long-form epic, Southern-fried folk, and delay-laden shambolic noise. If you need your dose of transcendental acoustic glory, you’ll find it on “Inner Redoubt.” If you’re looking for a front porch stomp with a little bit of Spanish flavor, check “Hump Tulip.” Want a dusky raga with a tense mood? The next track “Dhumavati” will provide. Those who see the solo guitar as reaching its limits must be turning deaf ear towards Sir Richard.
The puzzling thing about this work is not the differences in its tracks, but the title. Each of these pieces can stand on their own merit, and none of them feel like an interlude between the two songs that surround them. There seem to be two options here: either Intermezzo is a threshold between Bishop’s other works, or each of these pieces stands on its own as a bridge between experiences, connecting what came before it with what comes after. I have every confidence that Bishop’s next record will be a powerful experience, and this is in fact a reissue of a CD-R Bishop released last year, presumably between larger releases. But something about these tracks suggests that they are complete units of incompleteness, pieces between larger movements uncreated. There is no lingering feeling of something undone, as each movement is fully complete, but there is a sense that they could each serve as a go-between, if necessary. But for the sake of this album, this cabinet of curiosities stands open and complete, with all of its shelves fully-stocked (even if it stands in a hallway between exhibits). Intermezzo displays Bishop in top form, and if this is an interlude, the next act should be spectacular.