Anthony Pirog Trio – Palo Colorado Dream (2014)

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When we first encountered Anthony Pirog as the guitar-playing half of Janel & Anthony a couple of years back, we found a guitarist who through the smart use of loops, effects and good old-fashioned chops had already developed his own language. Where Is Home made much of an impression by being impressionistic in truly unique ways. It’s obvious from that album that while there’s symbiosis between the two Washington, D.C. experimentalists, Pirog (and Janel Leppin) has got a lot going on his own to make a compelling solo act. With Pirog making his debut for the duo’s label, the nearby Cuneiform Records, we now got to find out just how compelling.

It turns out that Janel & Anthony only scratches the surface of what Anthony can do. Palo Colorado Dream, set to be released by Cuneiform on October 14, 2014, is a record by a guitarist of both ample depth and breadth, who as before uses those effects as a highly effective enhancer, not an enabler. Pirog is supported only by acoustic bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Ches Smith, but getting any idea that this is your basic guitar/bass/drums jazz trio record is not having any idea about Pirog at all. He sets no stylistic rules, each song delves into a style — often many styles — not for the sake of playing in that style but as a vehicle for delivering a certain feel. This always feels like Pirog’s record, the presence of major musicians like Formanek and Smith be damned, and that’s no small feat.

“Great Northern” might be considered the ‘Bill Frisell’ tune of the album, deftly combining rock, jazz, Appalachia, and a touch of psychedelia that’s faint but persistent. Pirog adjusts the mood from moderate, to hovering to just plain rocking out, and his rhythm section responds to these shifts perfectly. Formanek’s bass figure alongside Smith’s ever-changing time signatures set the framework for “Song in 5,” in which Pirog progresses through multiple harmonic sections to match those multiple beats, getting downright caustic during the climatic middle section.

“The New Electric” suggests post-rock, and Pirog uses looping, effects and whatever else to create the illusion of a sound much larger than the three. That’s especially noticeable on the layered crescendo, topped off by a shrill, soaring avant-metal lead. The all-acoustic “I’m Not Coming Home” swivels to the opposite side, relying not so much technology or even technical wizardry but the beguiling allure of a simple, earnest folk melody.

Pirog goes in a completely different direction again with “Motian,” aptly named because of the wide-open rhythmically aware melody that exemplified Paul Motian’s music, briefly interrupted by some buzzy electronic haze which somehow doesn’t disrupt the vibe. “Heads,” though, goes much further into the electro-noise void following a short, straight-jazz intro, only to find the jazzy section reappear to bring the song to its conclusion. “Vicious Cricket” brings the jazz, too, in the form of the free, metal-tinted bop championed by Sonny Sharrock.

Pirog sprinkles around four sub-two minute pieces that in their brief running times paradoxically puts the range of his artfulness in even sharper focus. They’re concentrated capsules, each presenting a different side of himself, from the floating, otherworldly ambience of “Palo Colorado Dream,” the scurrying wobble of “Minimalist,” the free funk metal “Threshold” and acoustic guitar-led folk piece that’s just slightly askew, “Goodnight Green.”

A record that’s equally capable of enchanting you and pummeling you with many shades of aura in between, Palo Colorado Dream catapults Anthony Pirog into the corps of elite experimental guitarists.

Visit Anthony Pirog’s website for more info.

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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