A sense of personal yet universal nostalgia runs through Ernest Hood’s Neighborhoods: you overhear the playfulness of children’s voices; the natural birdsong, distant dog barking and cicada rhythms of endless summers; ragtime music playing on someone’s radio through a window; the opening and closing of porch doors that evoke a time when you’d spend all day out of the house, returning only to reload on snacks, grab a water pistol or let your parents know you were gong to be over at so-and-so’s house until it was time to reluctantly go to bed.
These are the sounds of youth, of innocence, of freedom, recorded from the purview of a Portland, OR jazz musician confined to a wheelchair thanks to contracting polio in his late twenties. Released in 1975 as a private LP pressing, Hood’s opus developed a long-standing interest in field recordings by augmenting those captured sounds with synthesizer and zither, instruments that he was drawn to when his physical limitations prevented him from playing the guitar with the same intensity that he had previously played.
The combination of the two elements – the captured and the created – is curious. On the one hand, his playing is filled with a vibrancy and clarity of texture and movement, occasionally slipping into the melodic dexterity begat from cutting his teeth in jazz, but mostly offering a sort of wistful, evocative accompaniment to his taped conversations and environmental sound. ‘The Secret Place’ has a gentle, rolling mournfulness, a languid tone full of both promise and regret; ‘The Store’ has a jaunty irreverence, the embodiment of the local, family-run Main Street store that predated the out of town mall and the emptying of traditional town life; the episodic synth interventions of ‘After School’ have a wonky, optimistic energy, full of retro-futuristic hope, redolent of pent-up kids being let out the school gate, homework-free and only the limits of their imagination to stop them.
The oddness of the juxtaposition comes in the sepia-tinted field recordings. These taped elements don’t necessarily lack fidelity, but they sound dated and quintessentially of their time. We are used to life being much noisier, filled with clamour, omnipresent traffic noise, the unholy chatter of incessant FaceTime / Skype / phone conversations and a sort of modern vernacular that seems like the most distant of cousins to that which Ernest Hood was recording in the mid-1970s. In celebrating a certain well-meaning voyeuristic and celebratory now-ness with Neighborhoods, Hood had knowingly created documentary evidence of an age that’s now slipping rapidly out of collective recollection.
Neighborhoods by Ernest Hood was originally released by Thistlefield / Rexius Records in 1975 and was reissued by Freedom To Spend on October 11 2019.
Words: Mat Smith
(c) 2019 Further.