Leo Abrahams has led what is possibly the ideal modern guitarist’s life: touring Russia performing improvised solo shows through a laptop; playing with Brian Eno AND Bryan Ferry, not to mention Imogen Heap, Jarvis Cocker, and Paul Simon; as well as co-writing or arranging a variety of film soundtracks, including Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones and Steve McQueen’s Hunger. Last year he was part of two terrific recorded projects, Visitations, a series of guitar duets with Shahzad Ismaily; and Krononaut (listen to tracks below), a record of improvisations with drummer Martin France, bassists Tim Harries and Shahzad Ismaily, Arve Henriksen on trumpet, and Matana Roberts on saxophone. For more background I recommend our first interview here, and our later conversation here .
When Stian Westerhus posted on his Facebook page about participating on a new record it sent me down a rabbit hole that led to one of the best modern improvising ensembles I have ever seen. One of Belgian drummer Teun Verbruggen’s many projects is a quartet called Warped Dreamer, featuring himself on drums and electronics, Arve Henriksen on trumpet and electronics, Stian on guitar and electronics, and Jozef Dumoulin on Fender Rhodes and electronics. These videos from 2014 show how four top-notch instrumentalists, who are also highly conversant with the use of processing and electronics, can come together to make dynamic, boundry-less but cohesive music. Beautifully shot and recorded, it is a shame that it doesn’t exist as an unedited whole, if only because it feels like a few minutes are missing here and there. Still, it is necessary viewing for any modern guitarist. Look for the new record on Consouling Sounds February 26.
If you are like me, you could stare covetously at the beautiful Island Instruments 12-string he is playing for the whole 20 minutes. But while doing so, Phelps gives great insight into his process when making loops with his desktop system.
Many of this year’s picks were recorded before 2020, for obvious reasons. Works by veterans (Sharp, Alcorn, Björkenheim) joined some newer voices (Naylor, Yalvaç, Gargaud) in offering us quality distractions from a nightmarish year. If you hear anything you like, please purchase something from the artist. With touring off the table, times are tougher than usual for experimental artists.
Today is the birthday of Adrian Belew who, for years, has managed to make complex music (Zappa, King Crimson, his own) seem easy and fun. Here are some great sounding, relatively recent, beautifully shot videos of his latest band. The man keeps growing and evolving, while magically making digital guitar sounds that are warm and human.