All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

361

Stian Westerhus: Pitch Black Star Spangled

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
With advances in technology allowing musicians to turn real-time solo performances into works of near-orchestral expansiveness, the concept of a solo guitar album has become something much different than when guitarists like Lenny Breau turned the instrument on its side with Five O'Clock Bells (Genes, 1977), deceptively sounding like the work of two guitarists with no overdubbing, no effects. There's little in the canon of solo guitar—with the possible exception of Derek Bailey and Fred Frith—that can prepare or set precedence for Norwegian guitarist Stian Westerhus and Pitch Black Star Spangled, an album that utterly redefines the concept of solo recording.

Since returning to Norway after spending a few years in England, Westerhus has wasted no time getting his name out there, working with everyone from Jaga Jazzist and Crimetime Orchestra, to Puma and his regular gig with trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer. Westerhus' personal emphasis has increasingly focused on solo performance, and his show at Nattjazz 2010 more than amply demonstrated his complete and utter irreverence for convention and guitar orthodoxy—a disregard that doesn't negate his inestimable core talents as guitarist and sonic manipulator, but which does suggest that those looking for conventional constructs of melody, rhythm and harmony need to look elsewhere. Those doing so would, however, miss out on some of the most exciting new music on the instrument since another Norwegian innovator, guitarist Eivind Aarset.

Westerhus demonstrates that electronics, extended techniques and no small amount of noise can not only be applied to harsher extremes, but profound beauty as well. What might leave most guitarists scratching their heads in wonder—how he does it—is unimportant. Only the result is, and for every abstruse, angular track like the extreme, Stuart H. Tresserian extrapolation of "The Antagonist," or "Music for Leaving"—where scratches, clicks, pops, brief moments of jagged distortion and pulsing low end throbs create a curious pulse—there's the hovering beauty of "Trailer Thrash Ballad," whose oblique melodies layer over soft, ambient washes.

Melody according to Westerhus, however, is unlike any melody you're likely to hear elsewhere. And his seamless use of a wide array of effects—played, truly, and with the same fluid ease as he does his guitar—means melodies that are likely to sound backwards, suddenly scream cathartically into the stratosphere, or evolve in a constant state of textural flux. And when Westerhus uses a bow, as he does on the serene "Don't Tell Me This is Home" and melancholy "Empty Hands Mirrored Softly"—or combines delay-driven pulses with high volume feedback on the visceral title track—there's little doubt that he's breaking new ground far more successfully than Pat Metheny did with the failed experiment of Zero Tolerance For Silence (Geffen, 1992).

Reflective of his live performances, but also taking advantage of the studio and sequencing to create a 46-minute album that reveals something new with each and every listen, Pitch Black Star Spangled is a masterpiece of solo guitar, positioning the boldly unrelenting Westerhus as an artist whose realized promise only suggests far more to come.

Track Listing: Don't Tell Me This is Home; Thy Gospel; Sing With Me Somehow; The Antagonist; Pitch Black Star Spangled; Trailer Thrash Ballad; Music for Leaving; Empty Hands Mirrored Softly; Heart of Lead.

Personnel: Stian Westerhus: guitar.

Title: Pitch Black Star Spangled | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Rune Grammofon

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Read Fearless And Kind CD/LP/Track Review
Fearless And Kind
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: November 14, 2018
Read 25th Anniversary Project CD/LP/Track Review
25th Anniversary Project
by Jack Bowers
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Any Day Now CD/LP/Track Review
Any Day Now
by Mark Sullivan
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Adrift CD/LP/Track Review
Adrift
by Roger Farbey
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Folkjazz from Finland CD/LP/Track Review
Folkjazz from Finland
by Anthony Shaw
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Circulate Susanna CD/LP/Track Review
Circulate Susanna
by Karl Ackermann
Published: November 13, 2018
Read "Moku Maluhia - Peaceful Island" CD/LP/Track Review Moku Maluhia - Peaceful Island
by Mark Sullivan
Published: July 18, 2018
Read "Full Circle, Vol. 2" CD/LP/Track Review Full Circle, Vol. 2
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: July 11, 2018
Read "Dirt...And More Dirt" CD/LP/Track Review Dirt...And More Dirt
by Karl Ackermann
Published: May 22, 2018
Read "Vortex" CD/LP/Track Review Vortex
by John Kelman
Published: May 12, 2018
Read "D'Agala" CD/LP/Track Review D'Agala
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: March 13, 2018
Read "Modern Lore" CD/LP/Track Review Modern Lore
by Doug Collette
Published: February 11, 2018