No instrument is as quintessentially rock and roll as the electric guitar. It is more than that of course. Unplugged, it shares a similar relationship with the blues and country music. But paired with an amplifier, its contribution to rock’s many styles is fundamental.
Put that same tool into the hands of an artist like Nick Vander though, and it’s clear how few of the world’s most famous guitarists have made full use of it. The South American avant-gardist makes guitar music entirely unrestrained by convention. His work is beautiful, difficult and often unrecognizable as being associated with the instrument first patented in 1931 by George Beauchamp and Adolph Rickenbacker.
Vander has curated a series of five experimental guitar compilations for Orbit577, a digital offshoot of New York City’s remarkable 577 Records label. Volume One features nine pieces; Elliott Sharp’s “Wavefront” will be the album’s most recognizable contribution for many. It is as good a place to start as any. The 69-year-old Sharp – a hero of new music lovers since the late 1970s – delivers a gently spirited recording combining blues and jazz references.
Mongolia’s Daavarjal Tsaschikher occupies the other end of the spectrum here. “Empty, but it Doesn’t Mean Nothing” is less a drone work than a nine-minute growl. Not exactly menacing, but close enough to a noise sculpture that it will intimidate lovers of conventional electric guitar playing.
So will Nicola L. Hein’s “Form is a Possibility of Structure.” The German composer and sound artist has turned in the album’s absolute high point. Its grandiosity may not have been meant as a test, but it certainly serves that function here. Its scale is welcoming though. It is an exciting work at a time when that emotion is in tragically short supply.
One more highlight. Vander’s offering buzzes like an electric hummingbird. Paired with washes of more traditional guitar sounds played in reverse, the piece seems to run at two speeds simultaneously.
Walk My Way is a purposely international affair. The five-album series will present us 49 players from six separate continents. As its title suggests, this is more than a compilation of guitar virtuosity. Like so much other music made in recent months, these pieces reflect the various ways in which artists are navigating COVID-19-related lockdowns around the world. In that sense, the series is a worthy documentation of both the electric guitar and those who’ve wrung the most interesting art from it.