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The unlikely partnership between acoustic guitar pioneer Leo Kottke and Phish bassist Mike Gordon continues as they tour in support of the long-awaited Noon, their first new album in 15 years. Couching late-night melancholy in a summer lilt, Noon features 11 tracks of warmly askew folk-pop, intricate playing, and the intimate third voice created by Kottke and Gordon, two of the most accomplished and idiosyncratic instrumentalists in American music.
As creative as it is dextrous, under other circumstances, Noon might be hailed as a breakthrough third album from a young band. The return of an American guitar legend, Noon marks Leo Kottke’s first studio record since his last collaboration with Gordon, 2005’s 66 Steps, though he’s continued to tour constantly.
Beginning his career on John Fahey’s Takoma label in 1969, Kottke virtually invented his own school of playing with his distinct, propulsive flatpicking. As a co-founder of Phish in 1983, launching a solo career in the early ‘00s, Gordon’s own big-eared musical vocabulary has created both a boundary-pushing discography of studio and live releases and helped shape a generation (or two) of improvisers.
The pairing of Kottke with Gordon began some two decades ago, when Gordon -- a longtime fan -- audaciously overdubbed a bass part over Kottke’s 1969 solo track “The Driving of the Year Nail” and hand-delivered it to the veteran Minnesota guitarist. The result was 2002’s acclaimed Clone.
Noon also finds the duo joined by Phish drummer Jon Fishman on five tracks, including a bopping low-key cover of Prince’s “Alphabet Street.” For Kottke, bringing Fishman into the fold has been a long time coming, having first struck up a friendship with the Phish drummer prior to his collaboration with Gordon when the drummer approached him after a gig and struck up a conversation. Though Noon largely captures the sound of an acoustic guitar playing with electric bass, and there are a lot of live-in-studio performances, it is also far more than the sound of Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon playing in a room together. Recorded in New Orleans and Vermont, with music exchanged by file, tape-sealed boombox, sheet music, and face-to-face, Noon is the musically visible part of a conversation between Kottke and Gordon, his junior by 20 years. A panoramic collection of small, strange moments to parallel the serendipitous turns of its extended five-year creation, Noon is a collaboration as singular as its musicians.