Pino Forastiere’s new album, From 1 to 8, presents seven studies for solo acoustic guitar with one overdubbed trio piece. Being issued on Candyrat Records ensures that the listener will be treated to a fair amount of technical prowess, a few tricks, possibly tapping, and a heightened compositional approach. This record does not disappoint. If anything, it raises certain expectations for other artists. Forastiere’s compositions are full of gnarled progressions that venture away from the theme, double back unexpectedly, and take the listener on a welcomed journey. Set in a modern guitar style, a classical background hides behind all of these compositions. The playing is exquisitely clean and the recording is reasonably true – not too crisp and not too much reverb. While technique abounds, there is a strong human feel to the playing.
“Studio n. 3” is a tap-heavy piece that intersperses a quarter-note beat with volatile, polyphonic hammer-ons and pull-offs. The piece grooves a little behind the beat, but this in no way hampers it. The feel is intensified by the naturalness and is more inviting than intimidating. “Studio n. 5” also presents a jagged rhythmic workout starting with left-hand-only tapping. The piece shifts, builds, and strips away at itself. At the end of each segment, a new idea evolves – a bass melody, a mid-range melody, a tapped vamp, a harmonic ladder. As each section mutates into the next, the quick pulse introduced at the onset of the piece acts as the glue binding the progressions. There’s a touch of Reich-ian minimalism in the bassline, a nod to Egberto Gismonti in the chording and melody, and little blues thrown in for good measure.
Naming the pieces sequentially starting with “Studio n. 1” presents an expectation that these are exercises, meant to show technique or examples of composition. However, looking at it another way, the lack of titles allows the music to speak on its own. These compositions present a narrative, just not an explicit one. In a recent set on a Candyrat tour, Forastiere charmingly commented that the numbered pieces are easier to remember than the named pieces. So, I suppose, it is also a functional decision.
“Studio n. 2” is the gentlest piece, unfolding a long, complicated melody in variations. Each start to the main phrase veers down a separate path. Recalling the melodicism of Ralph Towner, Forastiere perfectly captures darkness with beauty and grace. The floor of this piece is less stable with the bass shifting patterns, while the melody patiently hangs in the air while the next chordal choice is constructed. “Studio n. 7” unrolls a slowly picked melancholic mood. The pace quickens with a section that pairs hammer-ons in the bass with a by-now trademark quarter-note melody. Part of Forastiere’s stated mission is to not let the technique overtake the musical thought. At points, it seems like the melody has a limited role (i.e. quarter notes) given the complexity of everything happening beneath it. However, the album provides enough diversity of rhythm, tempo, and mood to avoid this trap.
Outside of mild dissonance, conflict is presented through the combining of paradoxes. In the opening number, Forasteiere unveils patient sequences of quickly picked chords in multiple time signatures. The quick picking acts as bedding for long, slow melodic statements. Conflicts of this sort (slow over quick) seamlessly create movement without resorting to heavy-handedness. “Studio n. 7” also taps into this method.
This music is progressive, but never veers into the literary references that enhance or plague prog rock (depending on your viewpoint). Simplicity versus complexity is at the heart of this album. The simplicity in the album artwork, song titles, and solo guitar settings starkly contrasts to the multi-section structures of each composition. The advanced harmonic progressions could never be mistaken for post-Fahey idolatry. The high level of skill needed to play these pieces is never flouted; rather, it is presented with emotion and a personal, involved feel that sways and grooves.
The album closes with the three-track, three-guitar “Studio n. 8”. The track summarizes the approach of the preceding pieces, while adding a more density and the inklings of a harmonized guitar solo, thanks to overdubbing. Towards the end of the track, rhythmic strumming turns to rhythmic picking, ending in rhythmic harmonics. The deconstruction is a clever ending to a clever collection of compositions.