Friday, November 1, 2019

Dither Electric Guitar Quartet Releases Third Album

courtesy of Naxos of America

Those who have been following this site for some time probably know that I have given a generous amount of attention to the guitar and the diversity of repertoire for that instrument, not only solo but also in chamber settings, many of which consist only of multiple guitars. To some extent this is a product of the “education” I received from attending recitals at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). When I first began to write about the performance of music, SFCM provided an abundance of opportunities to listen to emerging talents, most of which came to emerge through the instruction and encouragement of Sérgio Assad during his time on the SFCM Guitar Faculty.

These days I spend less time at SFCM, but my interest in the guitar as a platform for innovations in both composition and performance has not waned. Today happens to be the release date for the new album Potential Differences on New Focus Recordings, and my interest is still up there. The musicians, however, come from that “other coast.” They are the members of Dither, an electric guitar quartet based in New York. Specifically, they are Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes, James Moore and Gyan Riley. Only the last is familiar to me, since I have listened to him play with his father, Terry Riley (in a performance at SFCM).

There are nine compositions on this album. Each member of the quartet is responsible for one of them. In order of appearance on the track listing, they are Riley (“The Tar of Gyu”), Lopes (“Mi-Go”), Moore (“Mannequin”), and Levine (“Renegade”). The last track is the longest, “Swell Piece” by James Tenney; and I must confess that I was drawn to this album because I am much more familiar with Tenney’s work in theory than I am with any of his compositions. Three of the other composers I have encountered on previous occasions, two on recordings of guitar music, Eve Beglarian (“The Garden of Cyrus”) and Paula Matthusen (“but because without this”). My familiarity with Ted Hearne (“Candy”), on the other hand, is through other genres, primarily vocal.

Nevertheless, the encounter that interested me the most on this album was the four-movement suite Ones by Jascha Narveson, a composer previously unfamiliar to me. This amounted to an extended étude in which each movement explored a different aspect of electric guitar sonority. The movement titles are “The Wah One,” “The Driving One,” “The Warped One,” and “The Floaty One;” and they are sufficient to guide the listener through the composer’s explorations.

I was also readily drawn into the Hearne composition. He describes it as follows: “Candy passes a simple melody around the quartet, bouncing from one player to another with seeming ease.” Much of that bouncing involves the sort of intervallic leaps from which a sense of polyphony emerges. To my ears, however, those leaps also recalled the theme of one of Thelonious Monk’s earliest compositions, “Misterioso,” leading me to wonder whether or not Monk was in the back of Hearne’s mind (even if subconsciously) while he was working on this piece.

This, however, raises my one negative impression of this new album. That last paragraph happens to have been based on promotional material I received prior to the release of the album itself. The booklet that accompanies the album says nothing about either the composers or the works they contributed; and the content provided on the Web page is not much more informative. I would hate to think that the members of Dither just want listeners to use these tracks as “background music,” rather than experiences that deserve attentive listening! Even a URL pointing to a Web page with information about both composers and compositions would have been of value to well-intentioned listeners.

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