Steve Reich’s masterful Electric Counterpoint (1987) opens this disc. That work originally written for Pat Metheny and has become pretty much a classic as well as a fine way to demonstrate a musician’s facility with multi-tracked guitar music.
Trevor Babb is a doctoral student at Yale and this appears to be his first album. And what an album it is. The choice of the opening work serves to demonstrate Babb’s ability to interpret, in his own individual manner, a work that has been recorded many times. It remains a classic and very listenable work which belies the difficulties inherent in its performance. Babb seems to take a bit more of a legato approach than previous interpretations but is definitely highly effective and this is a wonderful recording of the work.
It also serves to set the tone for the rest of this truly fine solo guitar and electronics debut album. Electric Counterpoint is the first of 6 total works represented on this disc. The remaining five selections fit the rubric of this collection in the overall sense but are definitely unique and challenging in their ways.
Paul Kerekes is not a familiar name to this writer and perhaps a new name to many. His inclusion here introduces many to this composer and places him in the context of this interesting collection. This young composer is apparently well known in the New York scene and seems to travel in the circles that include some of the most interesting artists currently working. Trail is a very different piece than the Reich but demonstrates the range of the solo guitar and electronics genre. This is a gentler, more meditative piece overall and one which piques interest in hearing more.
David Lang is a well known and very welcome name in new music and is here represented by Warmth, a classic Langian post-minimalist work which delights the listener while challenging the performer.
Septet by the late great James Tenney is one of those masterful compositions that is respected as a masterpiece but not often programmed. This is due at least in part to it’s critical use of alternate tuning. The effects intended by the composer can only be heard if the performer can play accurately the tuning involved. It is a wonderful and listener friendly experience typical of the finest of Tenney’s grasp of how to use such tunings in the compositional process. Babb executes this piece lovingly and this performance will likely help to nudge this work to a more frequent experience in the concert hall.
Babb introduces himself as a composer in Grimace, an impressionistic exercise in which he attempts to imitate both the style of Ligeti and evoke the image of a mask seen in an art exhibit. Long tones and extended techniques predominate in this meditative drone-like work that demonstrates fine technique in both composition and instrumental facility.
The album concludes with Slope 2 by the emerging bass player and composer Carl Testa. Again Babb introduces a new voice for the listener to explore. This extended composition, more drone than pattern based, is one that deserves multiple hearings to discern its substance and to demonstrate its position in the larger rubric of this collection.
Babb produces a great debut here and makes a strong case for the genre of electric guitar with supporting electronics as being a viable format for a live concert. He also seems to be defining that genre much the way that many solo artists are doing these days. He seems to be constructing a repertoire establishing the classics (Reich, Tenney) and promoting the viability of works that he feels deserve a place in that repertoire.
This is a really delightful album and that extends, at least in this writer’s eye, to the cover design as well. Again I will bemoan the loss of the 12 inch square format of LPs which could have made more prominent this lovely design by Colin Meyer and Trevor Babb. Perhaps a 12 inch vinyl release may happen. But until then the listener can settle most comfortably in the warmth of this truly fine release even in the smaller CD format or even as a digital download.