Fingerstyle guitarist Christoph Bruhn lights up the Twin Ports with his effortless touch and soulful playing. Bruhn has an open tone that’s supple on the surface, but he plays in a way that reflects deeper waters.
Bruhn has made the transition from electric guitar to acoustic (dreadnought) and has made himself a student of the acoustic, its deep resonance and classy stylistic history. Ragtime, fingerstyle blues and alternating bass notes are all a feature of Bruhn’s music, and they produce stunning effects.
His complex patterns and chords belie the simplicity of the underlying structure and the dramatic narrative that his songs speak of – they are pure songs, blessed by the presence of an acoustic guitar and nothing else. In some ways, the music could be perceived as naked – but it’s a natural thing, the way it was originally supposed to be. It is never plain, which is a slight danger when only one instrument is present. There’s a thumping, invisible beat that hides its metronomic accuracy in the thumb instead of the drum, keeping the song on track, and Bruhn’s rhythmic playing is in safe hands – it’s just as safe and as solid as his lush labyrinth of interconnected, transient tones, his chordal maze of melody.
Weekends on the Frontier rolls and rides with a beautiful flow, the notes ringing into each other and creating a concert out of six strings. Fretted notes interplay with the open strings and create cathedrals of contrast and interest. Unusual open chords shine with warm colour, blushing occasionally. “Fjords of Northern Norway” is a beautifully evocative piece of music that cycles between two main sections, its alternating, country-inspired bass patterns and its nocturnal flat sevenths that create a little bluesy dissonance. While an instrument on its own can come across as cold and bare, Bruhn’s guitar playing is so intricate, so fast, that it creates a delightful friction, like tires burning against the blacktop. The pace picks up with the Eastern-evoking melody of “Arabian Writing on Plaster Walls”, and its swooping natural harmonics return on “The Dust Bowl of ’36”. You can set a fire to the music with the acoustic’s dry, wooden tone and the humid, sweat-stained air making for an incendiary partnership. And the same can be said for Christoph Bruhn and his acoustic guitar.
His advanced playing is a wonder to behold, because the intricacies of the technique demand a high level of skill on the instrument. But music should never succumb to a technical masterclass – what is technique if you don’t have music? A student in guitar 101 can still make soulful music by way of his / her naivety and innocence, whereas a technically advanced player who doesn’t know how to improvise over a major scale has no real excuse. Fortunately, his technique is used in the right way: to bring the music out of its shy shell. Weekends on the Frontier has a good nature and a warm musicality. Bruhn manages to give his tense, thunderous tones a real flair for drama, but they are students of gentle pacifism. The result is the light step of a serene, late summer pebble gliding over the surface of a cool blue lake as the forest behind burns. (James Catchpole)