Alternative Guitar Summit
New York, NY
March 20-21, 2021
The Alternative Guitar Summit was founded in 2010 by guitarist/composer Joel Harrison
. Every year it has included a Music Camp with Master Classes by notable guitarists, and a Music Festival featuring a wide array of guitar styles. In this pandemic year the decision was made to go virtual rather than skip a year. Recognizing that economic hardship could be a barrier, the festival was presented as "Pay What You Wish," with donations encouraged.
March 20: Honoring Pat Martino
Every year the festival honors a living guitarist/composer: this year the honoree was Pat Martino
. In his long career Martino has been a mainstream jazz guitar icon, but has also made a mark in organ blues and fusion. While not usually thought of as a composer, he has always performed original music, providing a wealth of choices for the guitarists playing the benefit concert (a portion of all contributions went to the Pat Martino Go Fund Me Campaign).
Martino's "Nightwings" played over the opening credits. Organizer Joel Harrison spoke about the point of devoting a concert to a living guitarist. It honors them while alive, while also deepening the guitar repertoire. He was joined by journalist Bill Milkowski, who covered working on a book with Martino, as well as producing a Blue Note Records album with him. Martino has a big interest in dualism, which is embodied in his music.
The first duo of the night was accompanied by double bassist Dezron Douglas
and drummer Allan Mednard
, the rhythm section for most of the sets. Since the band was playing live inside the same recording studio, most of the musicians were masked, as was true for most of the evening. "Inside Out" from Undeniable: Live At Blues Alley
(Highnote, 2011) began the evening with fast swing, both guitarists both fast and clean. After trading eights, the guitars gave way to a double bass solo; then both guitars played together on the final head. "Remember" is a previously unrecorded bossa- style ballad. The order of the guitar solos was reverseda recurring arranging tactic throughout the show, which added a bit of freshnessand both players demonstrated deep lyricism.
Fast bop was again the first order of the day with "On The Stairs" from the iconic album Consciousness
(Muse Records, 1975). Stryker took the first solo, and Bollenback's solo began finger style (contrasting with Stryker's solo) before switching to a pick. After trading fours the guitars left space for a drum solo, and the whole performance came to a dramatic stop. "A Portrait of Diana" from Desperado
(Prestige Records, 1970) is a lovely ballad, performed as a guitar duet. This time Bollenback played the head, and the performance ended in a cascade of harmonics.
Another fast opener, this time the blues "A Blues For Micky-O" from Martino's debut album El Hombre
(Prestige Records, 1967). Cherry played the head, and Bailey took the blazing first solo. Cherry's solo was slower and bluesier, and then they both traded fours. "Willow" revisited the Consciousness
album for a modal bossa, with Bailey playing the head.
Big shift to a more modern sound, reflecting Martino's fusion experiments. The pair of Fender Stratocasters were the first indication, after a succession of archtop and semi-acoustic guitars. The title tune from Joyous Lake
(Warner Bros., 1977) had an atmospheric opening (with Felder contributing electronics) before launching into the fusion head. The guitarists were joined by a new rhythm section: electric bassist Emanuel "Chulo" Gatewood
(a veteran of Martino's bands) and ace drummer Tobias Ralph
. Felder employed a clean tone for his solo, while Noy's approach was more eclectic; they played the final head in unison. "Songbird" from the same album had a fast head (played by Felder) full of starts and stops; Noy played the first solo.
Howard Paul Howard Paul
of Benedetto Guitars played a version of "Lean Years" from Strings!
(Prestige Records, 1967), which one of the hosts described as a "badass swinging tune." He was accompanied by the offscreen rhythm section of bassist John Lee
and drummer Karl Lethan. Pianist Laurence Hobgood
was in the same room with Paul, and took a sharp solo with guitar accompaniment. After his performance Paul talked about Benedetto's Reverb.com benefit auction of a special edition of their Pat Martino signature model (the very guitar he had just played).
Celebrated guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel
's set was a bit of a foretaste of the solo sets in the next day's concert. He first played "Black Glass" from Interchange
(Muse Records, 1994) accompanied by a pre-recorded rhythm section with him playing all of the parts! The live guitar playing was so dazzling that the one-man band aspect was almost completely eclipsed. Keyboardist Gil Goldstein
's "City Lights" from Starbright
(Warner Bros., 1976) was played unaccompanied on an archtop. The gentle performance echoed the original, a marked contrast and a lovely way to end the brief set.
Rez Abbasi and Jeff Miles
Again accompanied by Douglas and Mednard, Rez Abbasi
and Jeff Miles
presented a stylistic blend of several of the previous players. "Noshufuru" from The Maker
(Paddle Wheel Records, 1995) has a contemporary, almost twelve-tone sound. Miles took the first solo on his solid body Fender Jazzmaster: fast, and with sound effects at the end. Abbasi's archtop solo was noticeably more mainstream. The ballad "You're Welcome to a Prayer" from the same album reversed the solo order, with Miles again taking a more contemporary approach, including using his whammy bar.
Founder and host Joel Harrison ended the concert with a finger style solo version of "Country Road" from Nexus
(HighNote Records, 2015). The song has an almost Americana feel, a rarity in Martino's composing and playing, and well suited to Harrison's own eclectic tendencies.
March 21: Visionary Solos
At one point this concert included the word "virtual" in its title, which suits the format. With one exception, the show was made up of pre-recorded solo performances from all over the world. The stylistic range was even greater than the Pat Martino sets, as several of these guitarists are not usually associated with jazz guitar at all (though they are all improvisers), and they mostly performed their own compositions.
French guitarist/composer Nguyen Le
is an eclectic musician who frequently draws on his Vietnamese heritage. He is most often heard in a fusion jazz context, but his solo set relied heavily upon electronics and looping to create rich soundscapes. "Nox" began the set with an open drone, to which he added atmospheric volume swells. A serpentine whammy bar solo was followed by a pentatonic solo reminiscent of the đàn tỳ bà (the Vietnamese version of the Chinese pipa, a lute-like plucked instrument). "Singltus" employed a pitch-shifted, stuttering loop, while "Orbis" used an ostinato with glitching effects. "Organum" had a finger style chordal introduction (a marked contrast to his preceding playing) and included a solo with harmonizer once the loop had been built. "Siderum" built a slow melody with heavy reverb into a chordal melody, topped off with an ebow solo. A rich sound world indeed, and no doubt many guitarists appreciated the list of effects used in the closing credits.
Austrian guitarist/composer Wolfgang Muthspiel
is one of the few jazz guitarists equally adept at electric guitar and nylon string guitar. He chose to play his entire set on unaccompanied nylon string guitar, giving it a tone similar to a classical guitar recital. An opening "Improvisation" led into "Aeolian Fall" and "Triplet Droplet" (which featured rapid cascading triplets, true to its title). After a pause, a second "Improvisation," this time with striking Flamenco-like strumming and percussive tapping on the guitar body. "Opening" was a lyrical chord-melody piece, while "Ralphone" featured rapid flurries of notes (and a dramatic abrupt stop). "Etude #1" had a slow melody played over an impossibly difficult tremolando ostinato. The set closed with the gentle folk ballad "So Fare Thee Well." Muthspiel's playing was impeccable, arguably the most accomplished of the entire festival from a technical perspective. But never at the expense of emotional expression.
Mary Halvorson & Tomas Fujiwara
Guitarist Mary Halvorson
and drummer Tomas Fujiwara
have performed together frequently, including being two-thirds of the trio Thumbscrew
(with double bassist Michael Formanek
). Since there were no titles given, it is likely that the set was improvised; but since they are both composers, there may have been some material they had played before. The style was contemporary jazz, with reference to both free playing and bebop. The performance began with a dense rhythmic loop from Halvorson, which transitioned to a short repeated rhythm with glitching effects. The next groove was jazz swing, with Halvorson using her trademark whammy pedal (which has become a regular aspect of her style, despite playing a traditional archtop guitar). A low odd-meter ostinato served as a base for a dense slide texture, leading into a ballad feel with tremolo and light percussion. Riffs with a bass doubler returned to a jazz feel. Slide guitar over a drone was accompanied by Fujiwara's rubato drums, for an overall atmospheric effect. The final sequence centered around a slow chordal theme. Yet another contrast, this duet placed the guitar within a broad jazz context.
Guitarist Anthony Pirog
plays in a variety of styles. For his set he opted to play all originals on his solid-body Fender Jazzmaster- style instrument, frequently in chord-melody style. Most of the songs
came from his recent album Pocket Poem
(Cuneiform Records, 2020). "Janel's Eyes'' is a slow ballad, with backwards reverb swells; it concluded with a low note with backwards loops. "Pocket Poem '' is another slow piece, with spacious reverb. "Sitting Under Stars" is a finger style folk song with a ghostly reverb accompaniment. "Bit Clock" included bit crunching (as the title implies). Closer "Desire Waltz" had a chordal introduction, followed by a pulsing fuzz guitar ostinato. Pirog capped it off with a wailing fuzz solo.
In his introduction Harrison described guitarist Henry Kaiser
as the originator of the "guitar maverick" tag. Kaiser contributed several solo videos, similar to the ones he has presented in his Weekly Guitar Solo series during the pandemic (in fact the first two have already appeared there, if memory serves). "The Lost Chord" featured Kaiser reciting the lyrics to the Arthur Sullivan song while freely improvising on an archtop guitar (very reminiscent of the playing of legendary free improviser Derek Bailey
). "McMurdo" found him playing a Klein guitar with delay over a video of underwater diving at the Antarctic McMurdo Station where he has been a research diver. "Buscando" used a backing track from an album in progress by Jeremy Goody. Processed guitar over a reggae rhythm was accompanied by e psychedelic background. Closer "Out Of The Blues" really was a blues, although it included a nontraditional backwards solo (a Kaiser hallmark).
Nels Cline Nels Cline
is most associated with the band Wilco
recently, but he has had a long history as an experimental guitarist in many settings. His set mainly featured his Fender Jazzmaster guitar as solo voice: a jazz sound which paradoxically has rarely been associated with the instrument. He opened his set with a version of John Abercrombie
's ballad "Memoir" from his solo album Characters
(ECM Records, 1978). Played chord melody style, with short solos interspersed, it showed Cline at his most traditional. He took the same approach on Annette Peacock's "Touching," with self-accompaniment that included a backwards loop. Cline's "Untitled Struggle" took the opposite approach, including glitching effects, warped loops and guitar preparations (alligator clips attached to the strings at various points to create different sounds). In the midst of the sound effects he also played some very fast lines, a reminder of his versatility. His "Thank You, Ralph" (no doubt a reference to Ralph Towner
) was a folk-like tune played on acoustic 12-string guitar. An upbeat finger style piece, it was both yet another contrast and a delightful set ender.
Michael Gregory Jackson Michael Gregory Jackson
first became known for participating in New York's loft jazz scene in the 1970s, where he laid considerable groundwork for the contemporary guitar vocabulary. He is also an accomplished vocalist and songwriter who has worked in rock and pop styles. For his set he performed his own compositions unaccompanied on a solid body Gibson SG guitar. He favored ballads: "Karen (Sweet Angel)" and "Theme-X (For Geri Allen
)" are both jazz balladsthe latter featuring increasingly active solo segmentswhile "The Rainy Days" is a rock ballad. As its dedicatee would suggest, "JcakJcak (For Ornette)" is a chromatic bebop tune reminiscent of Ornette Coleman
, the most jazz sounding part of the set. "Wish"/"The Science of Beauty (For Arthur Livermore)" closed the set, the first an evocation of Indian classical music, the second a gentle bit of Americana. A lovely ending to the set and the concert.