There were many terrific records in 2017. In another year, Charlie Rauh’s Viriditas, Dan Phelps’ Arc, and Rights by Manuel Troller’s band Schnellertollermeier might have fit on my “Best of…” list. But this year saw so many releases by modern guitar superstars that I just have to recommend reserving some money to also pick up their worthy efforts.
This list is mine; feel free to list yours in the comment section.
I discovered Harry Pepl’s unique guitar approach on the Enrico Rava/Dino Saluzzi record Volver [ECM] in 1986 (a must listen). His chorused sound and fluidity were reminiscent of Metheny, but his attack was harder and his sensibility was decidedly more “out.” I loved it and searched the ECM site for more records with his playing on them. I found Cracked Mirrors, his outing with Herbert Joos and John Christiansen, but to my dismay it was only available in Europe. Now, thanks to the glorious fact that (almost) the entire ECM catalog is available for streaming, I am able to experience that record. Unfortunately, ECM has not seen fit to make Werner Pirchner, Harry Pepl, Jack DeJohnette available for some reason (though it is available on YouTube). There are other Pepl recordings to be found on both Spotify and Apple Music. Check out “Cracked Mirror” to hear how his playing in 1988 sounds fresh even today.
Wednesday was modern guitar pioneer Terje Rypdal’s 70th birthday. To celebrate, Henry Kaiser assembled a who’s who of modern guitarists: David Torn, Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, Hedvig Mollestad, Jim O’Rourke, Hans Magnus Ryan, Raoul Björkenheim, Even H. Hermansen, Reine Fiske, along with long time Rypdal keyboardist Ståle Storløkken, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and drummer Gard Nilssen (Dungen). There is a Volume 2 that is a vinyl only release of side-long outtakes that were too good to leave on the shelf.
Kaiser also played and his production is more than up to the task of presenting multiple distorted guitars with clarity and cohesion. This tribute is a must-own for anyone interested in modern guitar playing at its best.
In May of 2014 I conducted an extensive interview with David Torn in Brooklyn. I finally got it transcribed and posted in January of 2015. People have since wondered what happened to Part II.
In June of 2015, I went to the Baltimore/Washington DC area to catch two shows of David’s 2015 solo tour. On a day off between shows we met in his Baltimore hotel room for another marathon interview. I finally had it transcribed in September of 2015. Reading the transcription, I felt honored that David was comfortable enough to be extremely candid about many aspects of his life and career, but I worried that he might regret some of his more intimate revelations and opinions. Over the next year and a half I tried to figure out a way to let him edit out anything that made him uncomfortable, but a busy schedule seemed to preclude this. Ultimately, I used my own judgment in deciding what to remove and what to leave in. The result includes great stories, information about his process, gear, and the health issues that he has made public—plus a bonanza of newly posted video, including some of him playing with talented his son Elijah B. Enjoy.