Guitar Moderne Top Records of 2021

Despite plague, lockdown, transportation issues, and touring revenue loss, a surprising number of artists managed to release new material last year. Current modern guitar legends, Eivind Aarset, Stian Westerhus, and Nels Cline all make appearances. Legends in the making Ádám Mészáros, Tim Motzer, Nick Milevoi, and Eyal Maoz’s chime in as well. On a sad note, rumor has it that the Rare Noise label is folding. They are going out with a bang though, contributing three records to this year’s list. I hope I am misinformed.

As always there were many more worthy efforts; these just represent my collection of the ones that stood out for me. In no particular order:

Eivind Aarset Phantasmagoria, or A Different Kind of Journey [Jazzland]

Aarset is back in band mode with his compatriots of almost a decade: Wetle Holte, Erland Dahlen and Audun Erlien. This record proves that when musicians of this caliber play together for that long the results are often spectacular.

Dark Star Safari Walk Through Lightly [Arjunamusic Records]

Aarset’s fabulous collaboration with Jan Bang, Erik Honoré, and Samuel Rohrer returns with the addition of John Derek Bishop on live sampling, bass, and “treatments.” Despite Bang’s voice’s similarity to David’s Bowie and David Sylvain, they have  found a compelling sound of their own. Now all we can hope for is a tour.

Jo Berger Myhre Unheimlich Manoeuvre [Rare Noise]

Bassist Myhre has released a set of sparse, beautiful compositions that center around gorgeous sound as much as notes. He is joined at a social distance by Iranian tombak player Kaveh Mahmudiyan; Iceland’s Ólafur Björn Ólafsson on organ; vocalist Vivian Wang; and Norwegians Jo David Meyer Lysne (guitar), Jana Anisimova (piano), and Morten Qvenild (synth). Each instrument’s tone is perfectly produced and captured, and they blend together to create a new, timeless sound.

III [Rare Noise Records]

Hungarian guitarist Ádám Mészáros is joined by a band of countrymen, bassist Ernő Hock, and drummer András Halmos, for a set that spans rock, prog, free jazz, and ambient, underscored by a Southeast Asian influence derived from gamelan and devotional songs of India. Guests: include vocalist Dóra Győrfi and electronic musician Bálint Bolcsó. Somehow it all joins in a glorious whole of unique, energetic music.

Warped Dreamer Live at Bimhuis [Consouling Records]

Stian Westerhus participates in one of Belgian drummer Teun Verbruggen’s many projects, here  featuring Verbruggen on drums and electronics, Arve Henriksen on trumpet and electronics, Stian on guitar and electronics, and Jozef Dumoulin on Fender Rhodes and electronics. Stunning interplay in a modern vein.

PAKT PAKT (2CDs) and Live in Pawling (Digital only) [MoonJune Records]

Supergroups are rare in the world of modern guitar music but if any group qualified it would be this one. Guitarists Alex Skolnick and Tim Motzer are joined by legendary bassist Percy Jones, and Kenny Grohowski on drums for 90 odd minutes of group improvisation. The CDs were recorded at Shapeshifter performance space with no audience, and the live record is from a gig on 7/22/21.

Desertion Trio Numbers Maker [Cuneiform Records]

Guitarist (and fellow music journalist) Nick Milevoi joins with bassist Johnny DeBlase, and Jason Nazary on drums for a set of five explorations that will answer the question, “What might Sonny Sharrock have sounded like if he had some effects pedals, and a whammy bar?” The ferocious energy here recalls Sharrock, but Milevoi assuredly has his own sound and concept on the instrument.

Magnet Animals Fake Dudes [Rare Noise]

The music in Guitar Moderne rarely features vocalists, but Todd Clouser’s passionate spoken-word musings on the state of the world fit right in with the post-modern guitar sounds he and Eyal Maoz’s create. A triumph of passion and inventiveness. Rock and Roll for our time.

Olie Brice, Binker Golding, Henry Kaiser, N.O. Moore, Eddie Prévost The Secret Handshake with Danger Vol. One [577 Records]

Founding member of legendary AMM, drummer, the late Eddie Prévost, joins Binker Golding on Saxophones, Henry Kaiser and N.O. Moore on Guitar, and Olie Brice on Double Bass for two spontaneous compositions influenced by Miles Davis’s On The Corner electro-jazz era. A second volume, recorded during the same session, will be released as well.

Go: Organic Guitar Orchestra Resonant Bodies [Meta Records]

Adam Rudolph’s first recording of this orchestra was a wonder of modern guitar interaction, featuring a bevy of the best players in the genre. Rudolph shows that it was no studio trick by offering a document of the final concert on a tour the group did a few years ago.  Present are guitarists (Nels Cline, Liberty Ellman, David Gilmore, Miles Okazaki, Joel Harrison, and Kenny Wessel on electric guitars and effects; Marco Cappelli on acoustic guitar and effects; Jerome Harris on electric guitar and electric bass guitar; and Damon Banks on bass guitar) once again working in a context that allows them to shine individually and collectively.

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The Andy Summers Interview

A few years ago, I was contacted by Andy Summers’ publicist regarding interviewing him about his then new record, Metal Dog, a masterpiece of modern guitar mayhem. Now he has a new book of hilarious short stories, Fretted and Moaning, and a new record, Harmonics of the Night, so it seemed like a perfect time to chat again. We spoke in general terms about gear but he was kind enough to also send me a more specific list, available below.

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Roots Moderne: Seth Lee Jones

Guitar Moderne occasionally features what we call Roots Moderne players: guitarists who have pushed  a genre’s envelope. Seth Lee Jones was pitched to me as a blues guitarist, but when I checked him out on YouTube he was using multiple string-benders, picking behind the nut, and generally bringing the blues forward. Oh, did I mention he builds guitars?

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Benn Jordan’s Rig

Hands down, the best part of Summer NAMM was running into Benn Jordan. A candidate for The World’s Most Interesting Man, He plays guitar upside down, has a great YouTube  channel, performs in front of thousands as Flashbulb, and is a Mixed Marshal Artist. He recently posted this video describing his laptop-free setup for performing his music, a mixture of jazz, metal, electronica, and beats.

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The Marc Ribot Interview

I have wanted to talk to Marc for a long time. As we discuss, we were playing the Bleecker Street scene at roughly the same time when we were both working sidemen in the New York of the Seventies. Both his book, Unstrung, and his new Ceramic Dog record, Hope, are terrific, and highly intertwined. We talk about that and a lot of other deep musical and highly humorous stuff.

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