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Marco Cappelli - Extreme Guitar Project

Marc Ribot - And so I went to Pittsburgh (3:01) Ikue Mori - Bird Chant (6:21) Elliott Sharp - Amygdala (11:42) Anthony Coleman - The Buzzing in my Head (10:12) Nick Didkovsky - A bright moon makes a little daytime Hammertoes (3:03) Poker Face Alters Conversation (1:51) The Ass's is Demise (1:44) Otomo Yoshihide - Pi - Anode (5:57) Annie Gosfield - Marked by a hat (7:54) Mark Stewart - Uboingee Etude #1 (5:22) Erik Friedlander - Iron Blue (7:40) David Shea - Terra (4:26) Marco Cappelli, guitar

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In 2002, Italian guitarist Marco Cappelli went to New York City for three solo concerts. This gave the guitarist the chance to spend some time in NYC and become more familiar with the city’s avant-garde scene, part of which is also known as “Downtown” music.

This visit had a profound effect on Cappelli, and the idea to create a “musical diary” of these experiences and of the sounds of experimental composers was born.

It is very understandable then that, for many, this CD feels more like a tribute to NYC’s “Downtown” scene, a term that, I have to admit, I am always frustrated to see. For a European, it seems odd that such a distinction should exist in the first place; I know some excellent composers (that are labeled as Downtown composers) whose style is in fact very similar to Uptown composers... And, it must be noted that I would not have labeled these composers on this disc with any epithet indicating some kind of downwards direction! There should be no distinction of this sort in my opinion; it should only be about whether one makes great music or not.

Many of the composers featured here were directly inspired by Cappelli’s technique and wealth of knowledge. He is, in fact, one of the most contemporary-orientated guitarists, and I say this with a full knowledge of how sterile the guitar pedagogy really is towards fostering new creations. This is a common problem with guitarists in general so this CD is a great contribution toward igniting the interest of other guitarists to explore a more truly contemporary repertoire, to perform new music and to be actively involved with the music of our times.

Cappelli performs the “Extreme Guitar Project (EGP)” on an amplified classical guitar, which is modified with the addition of 8 sympathetic strings. That modification together with the enriched sound of live-electronics is mostly what creates this distinct plethora of truly new, exciting sounds. There is not a single language of expression here but several; each composer has something to say, and they are all saying it in completely different ways: some by using more improvised methods and others by notating things more precisely.

These different sounds, genres and ideas are demonstrated and somehow summarized in the very first piece on the CD, Mark Ribot’s And so I went to Pittsburgh, a work that uses cultural quotations from the world of Blues and Classical guitar, to name a couple, to demonstrate very effectively the instrument’s multiple evolutional and stylistic facets.

Bird Chant by Ikue Mori follows, a work of very concrete and clear structure that essentially consists of six organically juxtaposed musical landscapes, using guitar and electronics as two separate entities.

Amygdala (meaning “almonds” in Greek) by Elliott Sharp comes next, and this is one of the highlights of this disc. It is a work with a seemingly simple but deeply imaginative structure, using bitones as the means of enriching the harmonic spectrum of the guitar. Bitones emerge from hammer pizzicato action and create, in many parts, a beautiful counterpoint of colours and dynamics. It is a work that is physically extremely demanding for the performer, but it is certainly one that is also worth the effort.

The Buzzing in my head by Anthony Coleman, which comes next, is an extremely expressive work, showing the instrument’s potential for creating very atmospheric textures. Similar to the first work on the disc, it uses various technical references and mannerisms from the instrument’s history in a concrete and concise manner. The influences for this piece can be attributed to the composer’s serious case of Tinnitus, his travels in Eastern Europe, Ligeti’s Lontano, but mostly Samuel Beckett’s theatre piece Not I.

Nick Didkowsky’s delightful three-movement work A Bright Moon makes a little daytime follows. Each of the 3 movements is cleverly and imaginatively structured. The first movement “Hammertoes”, which is the longest of the three, uses live electronics to create a semi-improvised, groovy counterpoint by using a variety of playing techniques, such as hammer pizzicato. The result is an increasingly complex and texturally very rich musical landscape. “Poker Face Alters Conversation” is a very reflective short movement that has a direct emotive reaction, leading to the finale and most classical movement of the three “The Ass’s Demise”, in essence a very rhythmical outburst oscillating between regular and irregular patterns of foreground or background material. Pi – Anode by Otomo Yoshihide, which follows, is one of the most experimental works on the disc, using a variety of extended techniques in an attempt to transform the profile of the instrument as well as challenge the expectations of the audience. The musical syntax is also quite varied, often making tonal references that derive from traditional technical mannerisms of the instrument’s classical period genre.

Marked by a hat by Annie Gosfield is a work that grew out of a truly collaborative process between the composer and the performer, taking into consideration Cappelli’s virtuosic technique from the start. Nevertheless, the composer here only chooses to use open strings, which are all tuned microtonally, concentrating on the performer’s right-hand technique. This piece must certainly be very exciting to watch precisely for this visual parameter that acts as a link between expectation and action, between technical intention and audiovisual result.

Uboingee - Etude No. 1 by Mark Stewart is one of the more improvised works, in essence a gradual transition between percussive and light sound action, moving from “noise” to “music”, from chaos to order. It has a wonderful sound continuity that is truly assisted by Cappelli’s committed performance.

Erik Friedlander’s Iron Blue provides a sharp contrast to the beginning of the previous work but a natural continuation to its ending. It is a very poetic contribution to this project, using more traditional technical means of expression. The composer’s influences of the iconic (and, crucially, non classical guitar) figures of the last four decades such as Hendrix and Santana are very evident; however, the musical landscape is all of his own, resulting in an original piece of music, a sonic bridge, if you like, between the world of Blues, Jazz and classical guitar.

Last, but not least David Shea’s Terra, from the composer’s six-movement collection Terra Meditations. This "duo for one guitarist" is a strikingly energetic and complex soundscape where, at times, the sound of the live guitar and that of the electronics cannot be separated, truly materializing the composer’s intention of a single duality.

Cappelli’s ability to inspire such a diverse group of composers to take part in this project is remarkable as is his ability to interpret these distinctly different works with an adaptable yet still personal manner appropriate for each style and aesthetic.

Hopefully, this is just the beginning of something greater from this performer, and this disc will certainly serve as the means of convincing composers to compose for the guitar (whatever form that might have today) and for guitarists to commission new works and to get involved in enriching the instrument’s genre and tradition into the 21st century.

Evis Sammoutis