Seth Josel, electric guitar
New World Records
Until It Blazes, Eve Beglarian
Strum City I, II, III, Alvin Curran
Slapback, Michael Fiday
The Stroke That Kills, David Dramm
Stoned Guitar/TIG Welder, Gustavo Matamoros
Canon for Six Guitars, Tom Johnson
Here is what I think: I think that every teenager who walks into a music store and wants to buy their first electric guitar should instead be given a copy of this disc. They are to listen to the disc every day for two weeks. When the time is up, if that youngster doesn’t want to play any/all of the pieces on it, they should not be allowed to buy a guitar.
Seth Josel has programmed tremendous music and played it with conviction, power, and subtlety. Until It Blazes is slow paced and hypnotic. I never knew I could be so enthralled by “sol-me-re-do” but the gentle delay and growing distortion kept me captivated. The three Strum City pieces are just that: continuous strumming over changing amounts of harmony and distortion. My only complaint is that the most energetic work comes first, making the other two less satisfying from a dramatic trajectory perspective. A minor quibble, if you even consider it valid.
Slapback, my favorite work on the disc, is raw and muscular. The improvisatory style walks you through the structure of the piece. It sounds like a King Crimson lick at first but the motive builds, grows, and evolves in extremely satisfying ways. David Dramm’s The Stroke That Kills is an electric adaptation of a guitar trio (all played by Josel) and channels the propulsive nature of Flamenco rhythms.
Gustavo Matamoros wins the prize for the weirdest piece. Stoned Guitar/TIG Welder lives up to the “stoned” moniker (the work requires the guitarist to “With a stone, trace the strings of the guitar slowly from bridge to nut”). Spacey and ambient, the work doesn’t sound much like an electric guitar (which is the point). If Segovia says that the guitar is like an entire orchestra, then Matamoros and Josel show that the electric guitar contains the entire electronic sonic experience. You could hear Genesis P-Orridge singing “Hamburger Lady” over this piece.
Tom Johnson’s Canon is quirky, chunky, and highly segmented. The form of the piece feels the same way as Fiday’s work: the careful working out of material. Johnson’s music, here and elsewhere, is incredibly conscious of craft and fortspinnung. This work is rigorous and stimulating without being pedantic or professorial.
This disc does make me want to instill that “Josel Bill” waiting period on electric guitar purchases. We need more music like this and more performers like Seth Josel.