Click here to [close]

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Guitar - Solo Part 2: Plucks, bends, wiggles, and whacks

By Paul Acquaro

Today we pick up where we left off yesterday with an overview of recent solo guitar recordings. Readers of the blog may know that I have indulged in "Guitar Weeks" in past years, dedicating 5 days or more to guitar recordings, this time, however, my list grew unwieldly. I would need a guitar month to cover everything. So, I'm breaking it down into solos, duos, trios, and 'beyond' guitar (to be defined!) and will be delivering it in small chunks over the coming weeks. Ok, now that you know my intentions, let's take a look at what really matters here ...

David Torn - Fur/Torn (Screwgun, 2020) ****½

I believe it was one of the first Bandcamp Friday, at the start of the pandemic when the online platform said it would waive its fees to give more to the musicians, that I purchased Fur/Torn from Screwgun records. So, yes, this has been in my collection for over a year, and I'm sure all fans of guitarist and sonic landscaper David Torn have this one already, but Fur/Torn is such a fantastic and timeless recording that it more than deserves mention. Opening track 'But Not Remote' feels somewhat traditional, in the sense that you clearly hear a guitar with a bit of forlorn tone, arpeggios and chordal fragments, lightly layered and gently unfolding. The next track 'Swayed' ruptures forth with distorted tones and howling lines. 'where'd i bury that stupid clock' is a mine-field of chimes with a razor-edged guitar cutting through it. Each track contains its own sound world, while connected often by Torn's piercing 'melodic lines', they may be filled with an array of approaches, and a glut of emotions.

Alvaro Domene - HEPTAD Volume 1 (Iluso, 2021) ****

Madrid born, New York based Alvaro Domene is a very active guitarist who co-runs the productive avant-garde label Iluso. I wrote about his previous solo recording The Compass a little while back and while elements of The Compass certain have pointed the way towards HEPTAD, this new recording is different. It seems to rely less on distorted sounds to fill the space and more on the accompanying capabilities of the 7-string electric guitar. The second track "Attrition" is a great example of this during its nine-minute run. Essentially a suite, the track begins with a pulsating drive and sparkling reversed envelopes of sound, a pause leads to a more atmospheric second with spacious ringing tones and interesting counter motions, which split multi-directionally, but at times coalesce into driving rhythmic figures. Another track, 'Where The Universe Is Set On Cold Fire' sounds like a self-aware Theremin singing of a broken heart. Fascinating. The album is replete with inventiveness. Bring on Vol 2!

Andrea Massaria - New Needs Need New Techniques (Leo, 2021) ***½

Italian guitarist and educator Andrea Massaria has crafted his solo guitar album inspired by the work of three American modern artists: Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, and Mark Rothko. Like these artists, Massaria employs extended techniques, and many effects, to develop abstract but structured musical pictures. Each track has its own personality, and uses sound inspired by the techniques used by the artists to shape the pieces. For example, the PO prefixed pieces for Pollock conjure images of paint drops and splatters, seemingly random but upon closer listen revealing rhythmic and tonal patterns. The RA (for Rauschenberg) are mixed media pieces. RA3 incorporates a philosophical statement read by Francesco Forges that Massaria wraps his sounds around, while RA2 incorporates pre-recorded conversations which contrast with burbles and blips of sound. The ROs, for Rothko, radiates electronic waves (RO3), minimalist melodies delivered with a church organ-like voice (RO2), and lastly (RO1 and the final album track), a static laced track that incorporates element of early electronic music with a slowly developing melody that eventually collapses into a resonant drone.

Dirk Serries - Solo Acoustic Guitar Improvisations Vol 1 (newwaveofjazz, 2021) ***½

Dirk Serries is a Belgian based guitarist, composer, organizer, and more, whose work has appeared throughout the years on the Free Jazz Blog. On Solo Acoustic Guitar Improvisations Vol 1, which is an accurate and no-nonsense name, Serries plays a 1957 Höfner archtop guitar and recorded with an "AEA R44 Anniversary Edition ribbon microphone placed 50cm away from the body of the guitar." Typically such details are less than secondary to me, but I think there is an intimacy and purity to the recording that is visceral and inviting. Starting with the opening track 'Axis,' the sound is crisp and precise, a particular dryness to the tone enhances the percussive elements of the sound and the rush of notes and clack of strings against the neck or against the plectrum conveys a senses of exploration and freedom that is absolutely essential in this Derek Bailey-like approach to the guitar. It's engaging and opens up the tonal possibilities of Serries' vintage guitar.

E. Jason Gibbs - Wolves of Heaven (Orbit577, 2021) ***½

E. Jason Gibbs is a guitarist from Portland, Maine. That is about all that I know of him (so far); however, from a quick listen to his solo guitar effort 'Wolves of Heaven,' it seems like he has has digested the lessons of Derek Bailey and John Fahey and has made them something of his own. 'Shuffling Towards the Moon' begins with a dry and lightly warbling guitar tone that seems to fray at the ends. The focus is intimate and seemingly a bubble of sound envelopes his playing. One can imagine Gibbs unpretentiously absorbed in hearing the sounds that come from the guitar's body as he plucks, bends, wiggles, and likely whacks the instrument, letting the natural sounds and overtones fill the air around him. A fine example is 'Quill and Bones', which is but one of the many spiritually evocative and somewhat mysteriously titled songs. The tune leans on the decay of strongly plucked harmonics and skittery motions made on the fretboard to convey a sense of motion, while the track 'Deer Yard' is gentle, festooned with melodic lines and implied call and response. Overall, a haunting and unusual recording.

Dan Phillips - Solo Guitar Improvisations - Shapes of Things (Lizard Breath Records, 2020) ****

I am not sure why we have not covered guitarist Dan Phillips here on the blog yet. His Chicago Edge Ensemble featured Hamid Drake, Mars Williams, Jeb Bishop, and Krzysztof Pabian. His Quartet Next features Dave Rempis alongside Drake and Pabian, and he has also led a trio with Tim Daisey. Phillips also has parallel career in Bankok where he teaches. Hopefully we can begin to rectify this situation starting with Phillip's Shapes of Things, which features his solo guitar over the course of two CDs. Phillips' plays a clean toned electric, without loops or much effects (that I can identify). A strong sense of melody and deft control of his instrument, it seems, is all Phillips' needs to convey his musical ideas, such as on the track 'Shape #10', in which fluid runs smack into rapidly accelerating chordal fragments. The near 10 minute track never lets the listener go, no matter how sparse it gets, Phillips has something to say. By the time we get to the penultimate track, 'Shape #24,' things have both changed, and not. Employing overtones and a more percussive impact on the strings, the music is still moving, evolving, and interesting. Apparently the first solo offering from Phillips, and a solid two and a half hours of music.

Dan Pitt - Monocrome (s/r, 2020) ***½

Toronto based Dan Pitt's solo recording Monochrome belongs to the more song oriented approach of say Scott Dubois, whose evocative and reflective 'Summer Waters' was reviewed yesterday, than the visceral, tonal explorations in many of the reviews in this grouping. An introspective ambiance haunts the opening track 'Ghosts,' as lingering moments hang unresolved in the air. 'Attraction' is a more aggressive, structured track that glides along with a chordal melody. The quick 'The Sorrow' reverts back to a clean, electric sound and leads to 'Ditto', which delves into brooding, polyphonic counterpoint. The excellently named 'Lester Sleeps In', the albums longest and last track, is also an absolute highpoint. A blip of electronics along with dripping tones and legato counterpoint leads the listener through a dreamscape that in turn evokes the wide-open musical prairies of Americana and more.

Walk My Way Volume 1 (Curated by Nick Vander) (577Orbit, 2021) ****

Nick Vander is an experimental musicians and guitarist working in Europe, and in conjunction with the folks at 577 Records in Brooklyn, has curated a five volume (and counting) series of solo guitar recordings. Drawing from an international set ranging from Argentina to New Zealand by way of USA, Mexico, Germany, Thailand, Italy, Madagascar, Mongolia, and more, the effect is breathtaking. In fact, the series features the work of 49 guitar players, representing 32 different nationalities, and it could probably be enough 'data' collected, by going through each disc, track-by-track, to develop a doctoral thesis on comparative cultural solo guitar. For sanity's sake, let us stick to Walk My Way Volume 1.

The recording's background is laid out on Obit577's website, where after citing the impact of the pandemic, the impetus for the recording is described as: "This compilation is born directly from the conditions of our current historical moment, emphasizing music’s potential for connectivity, arranged through remote recordings, without a prescribed structure, and capturing their most current work."

Volume 1 begins with German guitarist Nicola Hein's 'Form is a Possibility of Structure,' an electric creation of sound that transcends its guitar-based source. Mongolia's Davaajargal Tsaschikher's 'Empty, but it Doesn't Mean Nothing' is a throbbing, gristly track that rises from drone notes and metallic effects. Argentinian Alan Courtis' 'Slidan Slijden Sloet', which, not unlike Hein's contribution, seems to draw in the energy around it to create something utterly new and compelling. Here slippery bass notes support ethereal, distorted tones and vague melodic forms. America based, Italian guitarist Marco Cappelli's 'M&M (Major & Minor)' feels more rooted in the guitar, in which percussive playing brings together classical structures, rock riffs, and experimental melodic inventions. Vander's own 'Behind, on the Left' is skittish and alien, while 'Wavefront' from American composer, guitarist, woodwind player Elliot Sharp uses a slide guitar along with myriad effects to produce a provocative soundscape that represents the whole album well: recognizable sounds mix with unusual forms, sounds and musical shapes entice, confuse, and ultimately help to paint an evolving picture of the possibilities of 'the guitar.'


Nick Metzger said...

Really good write-ups Paul, lots of things to consider here that I was unaware of.

Paul said...

Thanks Nick!

tom said...

Nice to read about players I know (mostly) nothing about, had no idea the solo acoustic landscape (which I am now cluttering myself) was so varied. thank you.

Álvaro Domene said...

Thank you very much, Paul, for taking the time to listen. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Heptad vol2 has been finished and will be mixed and mastered this month. I will keep you posted. Be well!

JG said...

Any thoughts on the I Never Metaguitarn series Elliott Sharp has been curating? Curious how it compares with the Walk My Way series he continued to...

000 said...

This is a nice solo guitar release, just announced on Relative Pitch. Reminds me Marc Ribot's Masada pieces:

Paul said...

JG - I liked 'I Never Meta Guitar' - the blog covered a couple of the releases in the past, but I didn't realize it was an ongoing endeavor until your note, thank you! (

000 - cool. I look forward to hearing the new Relative Pitch offering. Thanks for the tip!