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Anthony Pirog, Michael Formanek and Ches Smith [TrackList follows] – Palo Colorado Dream – Cuneiform, Rune

Anthony Pirog, Michael Formanek and Ches Smith [TrackList follows] – Palo Colorado Dream – Cuneiform, Rune 398, 40:18 [10/14/14] ****:

(Anthony Pirog – co-producer, electric, baritone, classical and acoustic guitars, Moog minimoog, Roland Juno-60 and Paraphonic-505, Wurlitzer 4022D, iPhone, loops, vibraslap, Bleep Labs Thingamagoop, The Nebulophone and The Bleep Drum, Casio SK-5, ARP 2600, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 and Six-Trak, Synthesizers.com Portable-22, Korg Poly-Ensemble P K-4, marimba, 4ms Nocto Loco and Pedals Noise Swish, 200 Toy Inc. electric piano; Michael Formanek – acoustic bass; Ches Smith – drums, bowed vibraphone (track 2), glockenspiel (track 3), vibraphone (track 9), Yamaha VSS-30 (tracks 10-11))

Genre-jumping can be a game for some musicians and it can lead to a “spot the influence” diversion for listeners. But then there are artists like Washington, D.C.-based guitarist Anthony Pirog (he’s also half of Janel & Anthony). Pirog moves across a musical array on the 40-minute Palo Colorado Dream, Pirog’s third full-length with his moniker on the front cover, and first for the adventurous Cuneiform label. Pirog’s 11 tracks, which include four interludes, shift from indie rock tidbits to jazz-skronk, from skittering groove-tinted moments to spacious ambiance, and sometimes the fragments commingle in the same tune. Nonetheless, Pirog’s music is peculiarly cohesive: the differences shouldn’t work as a whole, but they do. Two reasons Pirog’s vision gels so well are due to his partners-in-music: drummer Ches Smith, a percussionist whose résumé includes Marc Ribot, Ben Goldberg and Fred Frith; and acoustic bassist Michael Formanek, who is linked to the ECM label, has collaborated with Tim Berne and is a member of avant-garde trio Thumbscrew.

Despite the CD’s title and the mountainous terrain on the artwork, this is not a rural or wilderness-shaded collection. There are some verdant sound strokes here and there, but mostly this has an urban mood. There are modernistic, electronic noises; fierce guitar shredding and pummeling beats; tough-terraced funk-rock; and prog-rock immersions. Not the kind of material correlated with blue skies, fields of granite and grass, or snow banks glistening in cold sunshine. And yet, there is music with a secluded vibe. Although most cuts use electric guitar and digital keyboards, the acoustic “I’m Not Coming Home” has a serene swirl, where Pirog switches to classical guitar to render a folk-ish melody, with a structure reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s acoustic forays or something from Steve Tibbetts. The beginning of “The Great Northern” also has a pastoral precision, comparable to Bill Frisell, one of Pirog’s inspirations. Pirog modifies the temperament from the restrained start to a heavier, rock-toned congestion, and the rhythm section reacts to the change with forcefulness. Anyone interested in hearing this specific track on stage should watch an officially posted video of “Palo Colorado Dream/The Great Northern.” Pirog goes solo on terse “Goodnight Geen,” where he mixes acoustic guitar, marimba and two synths into sonic tranquility. Another of Pirog’s heroes comes to the forefront on nimble “Motian,” a tribute to late drummer and composer Paul Motian, who passed away in 2011. Pirog notes Motian’s compositions “can be very emotional, and it can feel simple and beautiful, but when you listen it’s very intelligent and refined.” There is a similar sensation during the shortened “Motian,” where straightforward guitar chords belie a foundation of rhythmic complexity.

Rougher inclinations bolster other numbers, especially on some interlude tracks (all under two minutes). The booming “Threshold” is a funky, guitar-skronk, prog-jazz piece which resembles, in spirit and in volume, music associated with John Zorn, Elliott Sharp and likeminded NYC downtown scene-makers. The boisterous “Minimalist” is a raucous group movement which utilizes repetitive phrases; digitized clamor; edgy loops and beats; and, of all things, a glockenspiel. A highlight is “The New Electric,” which commences with darkened, open guitar chords full of tube-amp reverberation. Less than four minutes later, it transforms to a potent, distorted dissension akin to the weighty post-rock of outfits such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, or noise-rockers Swans. Pirog, Formanek and Smith conclude on a frenzied outpouring with the aptly-named “Vicious Cricket,” a free jazz conflagration of the type which might be found on records by Sonny Sharrock or Nels Cline. Engineer/mixer Mike Reina did praiseworthy work to balance the loud and quiet, the overt and the discreet. He and Pirog decided on an all-analog recording, which is refreshing in this era of straight-to-digital engineering. While Pirog’s exclamatory guitar lines may not necessarily be the first thing a listener will notice in the warmly analog environment, this auditory approach benefits Smith’s percussion and Formanek’s acoustic bass, which easily could have been subsumed beneath the blaring electric guitar and electronics.

TrackList: Palo Colorado Dream; The Great Northern; Minimalist; Song in 5; Threshold; The New Electric; Goodnight Geen; I’m Not Coming Home; Motian, Heads, Vicious Cricket.

—Doug Simpson

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