Ben Tyree – Thoughtform Variations (2012)

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Ben Tyree describes himself not as a guitarist but rather a “sonic architect,” which sends the message that he sees his station in life at a higher plane; the guitar is simply a means to a grander end. A couple of years back he deployed his acumen at the electric guitar for the greater good of fusion, making an auspicious introduction of his BT3 band with re:Vision. This time, Tyree returns to the studio make a more personal statement.

Thoughtform Variations brings out many of the facets of Tyree’s background, ranging from classical to jazz to folk, funk and more. That isn’t what makes this so personal, however: he’s performing all of these eight original songs without a band, effects, or even electricity…just a solo acoustic guitar. Under the guitar fingerpicking umbrella, Tyree summons up Segovia, Hedges, and nearly everyone in between, distilling it into his own distinct voice.

The album begins with a technically dazzling “Soliloquy.” Using an alternate tuning he made up specifically for this tune, Tyree sketches a rich melody utilizing all the harmonic tools at his disposal from that unamplified guitar, strumming, picking and even using the guitar box as a percussion instrument all nearly simultaneously to get out every component of the song. As challenging as it is for him, the video below shows him replicating it on stage as precisely as he played it in the studio, even coming in within seconds of each other in length.

What becomes clear as you go through the record, is that Tyree doesn’t make things sound labored for the sake of showing off chops, there are more direct, simpler tunes than they are difficult ones. He goes for a certain impression with each song. The funky gait of “Bish” is meant to replicate the laugh of his drummer friend Jeremy “Bean” Clemons, while “David” is a heartfelt tribute to Tyree’s late stepfather, a meticulously constructed song that has a fetching theme at the beginning that he returns to after journeying through several sections of thoughtful, self-contained ideas.

“What Me Come To Be” explores a quieter mood, while “The Gatekeeper” is more decorative. One constant running throughout all of these songs is Tyree’s innate ability to move a song along in a natural logical rhythm. Songs aren’t merely performed, they flow out.

Eight years in the making, Ben Tyree’s solo guitar album is a full-bodied musical portrait of a guitar playing sonic architect that marshals his diverse skills to make a solo acoustic guitar record that stands out above most others.

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Thoughtform Variations goes on sale June 26 by Sonic Architectures. Visit Ben Tyree’s website.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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