Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ernesto Schnack-- A Work In Progress

It's difficult to summarize what is best about Ernesto Schnack's guitar album "A Work in Progress". It's tempting to go on for too long about the incredibly meticulous compositions, so clearly influenced in equal measure by so many genres. But going on about composition at the expense of Schnack's playing style, a melding of classical fingerpicking, jazz chord building, and contemporary percussion, would be remiss too, and of course to rave about only those aspects ignores Schnack's ear for melodies and counterpoint, and so on, ad nauseum. Suffice it to say that every track on this lush album deserves multiple listens-- all this, from a single acoustic guitar.

First track "Build" begins with a pulsing, soft drone. Over it sings a mellifluous repeated phrase that grows in strength and complexity, blending all of the visceral elements of a guitar--the scratch of a string, a tiny harmonic, the sharp percussion of hand rapping against wood-- that grow and then hum into reverberating silence.

Second track "The Single Purpose Room" unites intricate rhythm patterns in complex time signatures with deep bass and a haunting melody to create a carefully deliberate, masterful composition.

Track three, "Pierrot" is mournful, nostalgic waltz with a darkly unravelling middle section, a magnum opus for the sorrowful solitary clown. Schnack captures vividly the many personae of the stock character: the lovelorn and lost, the slightly sinister, the complicated comic.

Fourth track "Minimize" is a labyrinthine track that displays an impressive range of timbres with buzzing bass notes that intermingle beautifully with the sharp, bright mid tones. Track five, "The Griot", is more melodic. However, it too has an incredible dynamic, beginning mildly, escalating sharply into a conflicted, minor B section, and resolving back into a lull.

Track six, "I'm Getting Old", has deep roots in rock and heavy metal, employing sharp, twangy phrasing against a driving, constant bass that is accentuated by rhythmic slaps against the guitar body. Notably, that pulse is silent for a brief phrase where only the high melody is heard, and when the rest returns, it's to an orchestral buildup, the high harmony singing like a dulcimer.

"We'll Always Have Siberia" is biting and restless, a man pacing an empty, spartan room. The counter melody is a numbing, wintery backdrop to an icily piercing, staggeringly lonely melody. Eighth track "An Eloquent Goodbye" preserves the same loneliness, thawed: another empty room, another man, but now he sits in a resigned reverie.

The ninth and final track, "Post-", snaps away from lonely, creeping instead with all the cock and swagger of an alley cat along a dramatically detuned E string. Amidst the bravado is a sincere, touching movement, tinged with melancholy. The track (and album) ends in the jazz vein with an aural wink.

All in all: a beautiful album that delves deeply into the guitar as a vessel for the creation of music; it surprises, never bores. Whether or not a listener is a fan of guitar-driven music, this one is a must-not-miss.

Available at Ernesto Schnack's site, digital album €5 or more, physical release €8 or more.

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