Tela Guitar 2021
Countering Covid with stream of consciousness, North Carolinian luthier dives into the era of virus.
One of the latest pandemic’s unexpected results has been an influx of often interesting musical opuses, yet while many of the artists who produced those got hung on desperate reflection, Ari Lehtela took the idea further and collected his scattered musings into an entire record – conceptual by its very nature and structured chronologically post-factum. However, despite being bookended with brief “Prologue” and “Epilogue” and flowing in accordance with the fresh plague’s development, there’s not a lot pristine imagery here, the dozen improvised pieces painting the composer’s mood rather than mentally perceived pictures. That’s why freedom must reign supreme on this album.
So if “Sight Distance” seems to conceal a heartbeat behind Lehtela’s silvery strum and mysterious noise, as spectral voices seep through what will sound like prepared piano, the melodic “March Madness” offers chamber elegy before Ari’s six strings introduce raga and to the flow, harp sonics fill the ether, and woodwind wails bring in industrial air. And whereas there’s bluesy punch to “Guise” in which romantics are menacing, the expansive “Pandemonium” goes for troubled melancholy, with the weave of Tom Harling’s frightened saxes augmenting the guitarist’s volume knob figures and leading the chaotic abstractness to the verge of delirium.
The clearer a melody emerges, the more tangible it gets, amounting to proper jazz numbers such as the quietly thundering “Conflicting Reports” towards the platter’s end, although the askew harmonies of “Foot Divide” in its middle feel no less alluring, as do the folksy licks of “Interlude” – the most traditional tune on display. Of course, their scope can’t compare with the 10-minute “Blursdays” that’s as otherworldly as our experience in 2020 was: thanks to Ari’s flight and cosmic synthesizer passages, chased by brass and punctured by Dave Bullard’s percussion, the epic perfectly portrays humanity’s turmoil. The spare, yet intense, musique concrète and nervous acoustic ivories of “Spiral” might be even more to the point, but the record’s title track is surprisingly soothing – almost orchestral and magnificent.
All of this may sound minimalistic, albeit never barely-there, as befits something that’s supposed to infect you like a virus.