Anthony Pirog ‘Pocket Poem’ CD (Cuneiform) 5/5

For his second solo album, and the fifth release on D.C. based Cuneiform Records, Washington D.C. guitarist Anthony Pirog reignites an exploratory creative magic with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Ches Smith. Pirog’s music can range from jazz to rock to folk to ambient to avant-garde and back again with the flick of a switch. Unlike a lot of experimental composers that have tried to either take guitar explorations to a new level or to reinvent and create boundary-pushing sonic soundscapes , Pirog is a natural. He creates a multitude of cascading atmospheres with a refreshing flair and depth. When this trio first came together, their ability to egg each other on to fresh territory led to some fantastic moments of musical clarity. On “Pocket Poem” it’s as if the trio have reconnected in a way that felt almost inevitable, bringing out the very best in their combined musical creativity.

Pirog decided to expand the trio’s palette by mixing modern technology with vintage guitar synthesisers. “The use of guitar synths by John Abercrombie and Allan Holdsworth is very interesting to me,” he says, “and I wanted to explore the timbral possibilities available using these instruments in the recording process.” The resulting music is high on personality and rich with expression; progressive in the most literal sense. At once exploratory and reflective, subtle and storm-brewing, beautifully organic yet blazingly high-tech, “Pocket Poem” establishes Pirog not just as a superlative guitarist, but also as an intuitively gifted composer.

The album kicks off with the ominous, foreboding “Dog Daze”. It’s tense, it’s cinematic, and when it suddenly explodes with distorted theatricality, the worlds of Bill Frisell and Radiohead collide head-on, full force. “Dawn Cloud” drifts gracefully with its acoustic guitars and gentle, impressionistic electronics. The exquisite “Honeymoon Room” could be a long-lost John Renbourn tune, leading into the classy fingerpicking of the gorgeous, romantically attuned “Sitting Under Stars”. Combining an Eno-like quirky ambience with a Terje Rypdal guitar exploration, “The Severing” benefits from a uniquely ambivalent vibe. The trio’s interdependence comes into focus on the exemplary “Adonna The Painter”. Fabulous interplay and co-existing soloing. “Dangerplay” is like a tense, suspenseful interlude, welcoming in the title track with its sparse, hanging, disquieting minimalism. The subversive hijinks of “Mori Point” feature crazed electronics crashing spontaneously against a dramatic battlefield of sound. The echo, reverb-laden “Part and Particle” gives way to the gloriously ambient, guitar synthesis induced atmospheres of “Beecher”. The mysterious vibe abruptly ends as “Spinal Fusion” casts its eerily 80’s glow over proceedings. Robert Fripp meets Bowie one last time just for the experimental hell of it. “Untitled Atlas” thrusts us into the fraying neural networks of a crashing computer before the apocalyptic afterburn of “Deetjen” leads us into our very own melancholic meltdown.

Rarely have I heard such an innovative album from a guitar-led trio. “Pocket Poem” is just stunning. It’s diverse, eloquent and crazy in equal measure. Exhilarating and inspiring. I love it. Undoubtedly one of the finest albums of 2020.

Mike Gates