Favorite Contemporary Guitar Records of 2016
As we draw to the end of the year, I'd like to offer a list of some recordings that have caught my ear this year and pushed the guitar to exciting new places. This list is certainly not exhaustive, but I hope that you may discover something here that enriches your listening life and I'm interested to hear more great music in 2017.
Amy Brandon – Scavenger – Amy Brandon's debut release is a lovely soundscape of improvised solo guitar, electronics, and performances by special guests. Brandon's cascading arpeggios and harmonic language evoke an unplugged Ben Monder and guest performances from Roddy Ellias, Mike Rud, and Laura Swankey add to Brandon's sensitive and fine-tuned performance.
James Moore – The Book of Heads – New York City guitarist, James Moore, has released the first complete recording of John Zorn's ambitious Book of Heads since Marc Ribot's 1995 recording. These 35 études for solo guitar that fearlessly challenge traditional modes of guitar playing, embrace polystylism with open arms, and trade compositional specificity for the creative improvisational interpretations of the performer. As far as I'm concerned, these pieces cannot be recorded enough. Every interpretation I've heard has allowed for the creativity of the performer to shine through and many etudes take on a completely different character when passed from one performer to another. Moore's recording comes with a DVD of all 35 pieces as well, giving the audience an up close view of how all of the balloons, cello bows, talking dolls, nail files, ratchets, and other unconventional equipment make the sounds on the recording.
Nels Cline – Lovers – While Cline has recently risen to high levels of popularity due to his joining Chicago rock band, Wilco, Cline has been a long standing figure in experimental guitar music for a long time. His latest Blue Note release, Lovers, takes on original compositions, jazz standards, and popular tunes on the topic of Love. Ranging from Rogers & Hammerstein to Sonic Youth, this recording is a lovely exploration of love songs old and new. Featuring an ensemble with a vast color palate and sensitive orchestration from Michael Leonhart, this recording is not to be missed.
Diego Castro Magas – Shrouded Mirrors – Chilean guitarist, Diego Castro Magas, released this tour de force of rhythmic complexity late in 2015, but it appeared on my radar screen this spring. Castro's Shrouded Mirrors takes on some of the most ambitious repertoire of the British New Complexity school with staggering control and musicality. Every piece on this record is expertly performed and the amount of rigor that went into preparing this repertoire is absolutely stupefying. The title piece by James Dillon is performed with new perspective and precision, Bryn Harrison's M.C.E. is absolutely hypnotising, Michael Finnissey's Nasiye is incredibly evocative, and Brian Ferneyhough's ever divisive work Kurze Schatten II is presented with a depth of understanding and clarity of it's many layers of complexity that is unrivaled. Magas's playing is exquisite and the sound on this Huddersfield Contemporary Recordings release is quite stunning.
Sergio Sorrentino – Music from a Parallel World: New music for electric guitar – Italian Guitarist, Sergio Sorrentino has released a very interesting compilation of new music for guitar by Italian composers. The real standout on this record is Sorrentino's collaboration with legendary pianist, Bruno Canino, on the pianist's own rarely performed composition for electric guitar and piano, A Due. Worth seeking out for just this one piece, Sorrentino dishes up inspiring performances of five other fantastic new pieces by composers from his own country.
Mary Halvorsen – Away With You – Halvorsen has been a longstanding favorite of mine in the jazz world for years. Her newest recording on Firehouse 12 records finds herself at the top of her compositional and orchestrational game with a fantastic band. Halvorsen's playing is as imaginative as ever and is beautifully complemented by playing from pedal steel player Susan Alcorn and an all-star bill of six other players. These compositions shift between order and chaos with all eight players performing together with cohesion and intimacy.
So that's my list. I'm sure there are many great records that I missed. Sadly, being primarily occupied with making music affords less time than ideal for listening. Hoping for more great music in 2017!