A Guide on Folk Music – Volume I
Fantasias For Guitar and Banjo
came out in August 1963 – yet for an album well over fifty years old, it sounds an entire decade ahead of its time. Conceived by American Primitivism guitarist Sandy Bull and accompanied by jazz drummer Billy Higgins (best known for his work with saxophonist Ornette Coleman on classic albums such as Science Fiction
and the legendary 1959 classic The Shape of Jazz to Come
was not only Bull’s debut with the highly esteemed Vanguard label, but was possibly Bull’s greatest triumph in a career that reached several peaks and many debilitating lows throughout the sixty years he lived. Juxtaposing the realms of classical music with the old-time music instrument of choice, the banjo, on his interpretations of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and William Byrd’s “Non Nobis”, Bull introduced such music to a new generation of music enthusiasts, record buyers and so on.
The man was an innovator, taking notes from Indian and Hindustani classical musicians like Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan, and perfectly assimilating the exotic stylings of the genre into Western classical guitar music on the 22-minute epic “Blend”. Stemming from his admiration of the Folkways record label, which documented (and most likely introduced Bull to) ethnic music from across the world, “Blend’s” improvisational nature allowed Bull and Higgins to segue from momentary glances into the Indian classical pastiches that are evident throughout the piece, to more free-form jazz drumming sections and all the way back to more familiar Western motifs that enabled the duo to seamlessly traverse from one part to the next with ease. At first glance, Fantasias
comes off as your typical run-of-the-mill early 60s folkie record, but simply enough, this isn’t the case. It’s more than mere folk music that you’d hear at the local pub in Greenwich, but is one of the most experimental records of its time that truly never lost its edge.