In a world infested by the sound bite, storytelling is either transforming beyond all semblance of itself or simply decaying. Ava Mendoza injects a healthy dose of adrenalin into the ancient practice with this solo guitar disc containing her own compositions and a few from her comrades in artistic pursuit. The vigor, intelligence, and intuition evident in her ensemble works is here in abundance as she manipulates each sound, its myriad inflections and disparate outcomes.
Take the opening three notes of John Dikeman's "Don't Look" as indicative of Mendoza's organic approach to constructing a narrative. Are they the first three pitches of a series, as suggested by pitch variety in subsequent events? Either way, they form a cluster, and in the hands of other guitarists, that's how they might be played. The aggregate is stated three times, but in Mendoza's treatment, each gives rise to an individual afterglow of varying colors. The first loops, folding and enfolding its initial pitches in shrouds of filtered overtone and distorted emphasis as different components of the initial attack are foregrounded. The second cluster follows a similar course, but the aftershocks travel at a different speed as an upper octave emerges. The third slows the process further, opening a spare but inviting space for the succeeding pitches. The whole gesture is a narrative in microcosm, a forceful but wistful statement of purpose, foreshadowing the piece's concluding panorama of luminous diversity that would be uncouth to label distortion.
There is simply no easily pigeonholing Mendoza's approach to her instrument and to all in its orbit, electronics and everything else. She can transform the seemingly conventional with a simple bend, as on "Sun Gun's" opening sonorities or fold a bent pitch into its surrounding harmonies on "New Ghosts." That latter is particularly satisfying as microtones beat against each other, invoking a kind of multilayered resolution as the fourths and fifths slide into place with the bite and crunch available only in the electric guitar universe. Her control of feedback is exquisite and overwhelming as she elicits what I can only call after-harmonies. Her deft vibrato infuses the Beefheartian counterpoint of Devin Hoff's "Apart From," giving it an earthily bluesy feel against the backdrop of chewy dissonance in constant search of consonance as pitches wobble and sustain. Each piece constitutes a narrative, but also narratives within, as each note resonates with so many others. This is one of the most beautiful and astonishing guitar albums I've heard in a long time!
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