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Dominic Frasca: Deviations

John Kelman By

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When Adrian Belew, King Crimson's guitarist/vocalist, coined the phrase The Guitar as Orchestra for his 1995 solo album, he was referring to broadening the instrument's sonic landscape through an array of electronic processing. But to other guitarists even the most unaffected acoustic guitar has richer possibilities. Ralph Towner, for example, visualizes completely self-contained compositions on guitar—subdividing the parts amongst his bandmates in Oregon when adapting them for the group.

Then there's Dominic Frasca, a musical renegade who turns the idea of adapting music for guitar on its ears. Rather than shaping the music to a conventional guitar's inherent limitations, he's as likely to adapt the instrument to the music by designing a new and composition-specific variation—perhaps an acoustic ten-string guitar with a mix of nylon and steel strings and an electronic feed to allow some additional processing.

Couple his modified instruments with his unorthodox approach to playing them, and the result is a single performer on a single instrument building a tapestry of sound that will leave most guitarists scratching their heads. But despite the obvious question of how he does it, Deviations—Frasca's debut under his own name—is no mere exercise in nonconformist technique. It's as compellingly musical a solo recording as you're likely to hear this year—or, perhaps, any year.

Frasca interpreted minimalist Steve Reich's "Electric Guitar Phase on the composer's Triple Quartet (Nonesuch, 2001), and so it should come as no surprise that he covers "Two Pages —the work of another minimalist, Philip Glass—on Deviations. But what is remarkable is how he adapts the piece, reducing it to its core yet retaining its sense of urgency throughout. Glass simply never sounded so beautiful.

Equally stunning are a series of miniatures composed by Marc Mellits. "Dometude and the quirkily bluesy "Metaclopramide are rhythmically propulsive pieces that pack a lot of content into their mere 90 seconds. "Lefty's Elegy and "Dark Age Machinery are the lyrical highlights of Deviation, hinting at Towner but with more complex counterpoint. Frasca's ability to pan his instrument across the stereo image and blend the softness of nylon with the edge of steel creates a textural depth that defies the inescapable fact that these are live performances with no loops or overdubs.

Despite the recital nature of this recording, there's little to tie it to even the most contemporary of classical repertoire. Frasca's episodic 23-minute title track combines the mathematical precision and angularity of King Crimson's Robert Fripp with a broader world view, including allusions to Spanish music. His ongoing sleight of hand includes using the guitar's body as a percussion instrument as well as somehow combining tapped chords wth arpeggios to further broaden his musical orbit.

But despite the ever-persistent reminders of just how impossible Frasca's playing seems to be, what makes Deviations such an important record is that it never sacrifices emotional resonance. Waste a little time trying to determine how he does it, and then forget about that part so that you can appreciate Deviation as undeniably evocative—and provocative—music.

Track Listing: Dometude; Forced Entry; Lefty's Elegy; Deviations; Metaclopramide; Two Pages; Dark Age Machinery.

Personnel: Dominic Frasca: six and ten-string guitars.

Title: Deviations | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Cantaloupe Music


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