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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Guitars! (Part 1 of 2)

By Paul Acquaro 

Oh, I've been taken to task for my Guitar Weeks. They say, "why single out the guitar? Why not have sax weeks? Why not a euphonium fortnight?" Well, I have no excuse except that I love the instrument and have a bunch of albums with the guitar at the center that I'd like to share with you...

Miles Okazaki - Trickster (PI Recordings, 2017) ****

One of the albums that has been on my mind for a bit but haven't written about yet, is Brooklyn based guitarist Miles Okazaki's album 'Trickster'. Okazaki is a fleet player, steeped in the language of mainstream modern jazz guitar (I hear hints of Abercrombie in his spaciousness, and Scofield in his blues) and the avant leaning (he works with Mary Halvorson on Paimon: The Book of Angels Volume 32). Knotty lines are festooned with finger twisting passages, but they never lose their melodic core. Tracks like 'Box in a Box' find the guitarist engaged deeply in a funky give and take with pianist Craig Taborn, and the opening 'Kudzu' is indeed as fast growing and enveloping as the plant its named after. Playing in bursts, bassist Anthony Tidds lays down a fluid and propulsive structure and the tight drumming of Sean Rickman nails it together. Trickster is a great album, and Okazaki melodic crisp and clean tone is a treat to the ears. 

Jessica Ackerly Trio - Coalesce (s/r, 2017) ****

The opening measures of this album may have you have thinking Mary Halvorson perhaps adopted an alter ego but that moment is fleeting as the Brooklyn based/Canadian transplant Jessica Ackerly proves to have invented her own angular and modern approach, and Halvorson is simply a touchstone. The opener 'Clockwork' has a captivating openness that expands in several direction simultaneously, free but melodic, you can hear Ackerly thinking with her fingers. 'Discoid' also allows for a lot of space, but takes a more deliberate  and plodding approach that gets into some clean skronk - perhaps more like Marc Ribot or maybe Elliot Sharp at this point. A short solo track appropriately tiled 'Solo Guitar' showcases the guitarists use of open voicing and suspense. The trio is Matt Muntz on bass and Nick Fraser on drums. They give Ackerly the space and support that this guitar driven music thrives on, and it's a blast. 

Elliot Sharp, Marc Ribot, Mary Halvorson- Err Guitar (Intakt, 2017) ****

How the hell did I not write about this one immediately? Three of the top avant-garde guitarists on one album? Maybe my only excuse is that it is too much of a good thing ... raised expectations? Preconceived notions? Well, I finally dove in, and what an experience it was. I immediately thought of the trio Nels Cline had been a part of, The Acoustic Guitar Trio with Rod Poole and Jim McAuley, when the first track 'Blindspot' began with the clean guitar chord tones and tight strumming, but soon the preconceived notions melted and the exploratory, arrhythmic, and unanticipated took over. I stopped trying to discern the individual players (though all three have enough distinct approaches that it's not impossible to guess) and enjoy the adventure. The call and response of the track 'The Ship I am On' leads the trio up to a peak that is shot through by some familiar pitch bends, used to great effect by Halvorson. 'Wobbly' is neat track that features an acoustic guitar, and expertly demonstrates the intriguing balancing act between the askew melodies and atypical chord voicing that permeate the recording.

If you are looking for a new Halvorson or a Ribot or a Sharp album, keep looking. Err Guitar is something entirely different and for guitar fans seeking new approaches and fresh ideas, you could not do much better. 

Scott DuBois - Autumn Wind (ACT, 2017) ****

Autumn Wind is New York based guitarist Scott DuBois' second release on the Munich based ACT, which like another famous Munich based label, is highly curated and meticulous, with a strong interest in modern jazz. On Autumn Wind, DuBois tries to capture the visceral and metaphorical feel of autumn, employing a group that features in demand bassist Thomas Morgan (currently working with Bill Frisell), drummer Kresten Osgood, and reed player Gebhard Ullman. For a portion of the tracks, DoBois has as string section for which he has written arrangements. 

DuBois has an approach similar to the spaciousness and judicious intensity of John Abercrombie and his writing is strong throughout. The first track, 'Mid-September Changing Light', begins with a throb of bass and DuBois' carefully placed notes, building into a full but delicate duet of bass and guitar. Moving along to 'Mid-November Moonlit Forest', lush string passages give way to a rocking moment, like emerging from the cradle of a tree covered path into a clearing full of a bright star filled night sky. Hints of Americana and Ullman's earnest reed work follow that moment in 'Late November Farm Fields'. 'Early December Blue Sky and Chimney Smoke' is an upbeat and vigorous melody like a crisp cold day while wispy clouds hang effortlessly in a baby blue sky.

Evocative, moving, and successful in it's mission, DuBois' concept is mature and meticulous.

Vitor Rua - Do Androids Dream of Electric Guitars (Clean Feed, 2017) ****

Its simply a fact: Clean Feed is fucking incredible. I do not believe that any other small label is as prolific, releasing recordings by veterans like Joe McPhee, welcoming new voices like Chris Pitsiokos, and providing a platform for important multi-faceted Portugese artists like Musical polymath Vitor Rua. Rua is primarily a composer whose main instrument is the guitar. Early on in his career played in the rock group GNR, and has been involved in free improvisation, classical and minimalist composition, and even opera. Do Androids Dream of Electric Guitars is a fascinating look at both the minimal and jazz-rock side of Rua.

In this two disc set, the each CD features the same set of compositions, the first set played solo with over dubbing on guitar, the other set with the band The Metaphysical Angels featuring Rua on guitars, Hernâni Faustino on bass, Luís San Payo on drums, Manuel Guimarães on piano, Nuno Reis on trumpet, and Paulo Galão on clarinets. The first track 'The Amazing Worm' on the solo CD begins with acoustic guitar playing a single line melody, soon a brittle distorted electric guitar creeps playing chords like Ribot on Tom Wait's Rain Dogs, and soon the track is becomes an intertwining mass of melodic vines. On the group CD the same song features clarinet and drums taking the electronic guitar lines. Electric guitar delivers the same chords, but the jerkily rhythmic melodies carried by the different instruments lends a totally different feel. Both versions have a feeling of chic decay, a crumbling delicate beauty, held together, but barely. The track 'Flamenco is Dead' is a quick shifting of textures from electric slashing and skronk to the smacks of bass strings, and musical shavings cluttering the floorboards. The group version? Well the mayhem is spread across a broader tonal pallets and sprays shards of musical debris everywhere. The lovely faded elegance of the title track evokes a past future, with skeletal melodies and distorted accompaniment on the solo side and an even more delicate full band version.

Rua's album is a fascinating report from an artist drawing from all his interests: rock, classical, and experimental influences abound. Rua presents an exciting juxtaposition of solo and group takes of the same song, presenting both the drafts and expansions of his work simultaneously. Very interesting and well worth the double listen!


Anonymous said...

Since you addressed several recordings you weren’t able to extrapolate as deeply as usual. But for those of us who are familiar with your writings it is clear that all these works are well worth looking into. Thanks for another peek into parts unknown.

Vítor Rua said...

Many Thanks. We need more Critics like you in Portugal!!! Best and Kind Regards

Unknown said...

Do Androids ... is a fabulous album that deserves much love.