Label: ears&eyes Records, 2019
Personnel - Gregg Belisle-Chi: guitar; Dov Manski: Wurlitzer; Matt Aronoff: electric bass; Michael W. Davis: drums.
If you are not familiar with the music of Brooklyn-based guitarist/composer Gregg Belisle-Chi, now it’s the time to explore his third album of originals, Book of Hours, a formidable eight-movement suite consisting in an amalgamation of rock, jazz, and classical elements. Inspired by the history and texts of the Ordinarium parts of the Mass, the music was firstly composed for a nonet but ultimately adjusted to serve the quartet format. The guitarist pairs down with Wurlitzer explorer Dov Manski, bassist Matt Aronoff, and drummer Michael W. Davis.
One thing I really liked in this recording was that the pieces are structured outside the habitual head/solos/head configuration, which make them much more uncertain and, in a way, arcane. Besides the penchant for through-composed technique, Belisle-Chi shows other positive faculties. Amongst other things, he doesn’t need speed or pyrotechnics to show off his talent as a prime guitarist, but rather navigates with precision and a sense of focus. And that’s enough to make music with a personality that is strongly appealing.
Most of the songs vouch for a gritty, smooth introspection. Take, for example, “Aurora”, whose stripped-down musical poignancy creates plenty of room for the communication between the spacious guitar and the mysterious Wurlitzer sounds; or the lo-fi dream-pop of “Dusk” and “Sanctus”, which surrounds us with sweet clouds of breeze and tranquility. There’s also “Zuhr”, a short lyrical reflection that works as an introduction for the highly inventive “Gloria”, my favorite composition and the best model of the quartet’s elasticity. The atonalities in Manski’s chords are key, and his solo narrative spins into a subversively groovy electro-funk whose effect-drenched sounds are simply delightful. With bass and drums stressing pliability and detail, you can indulge yourself into both responsively improvisational dialogue and unanimous accented speeches between guitar and keys, before the band returns to that lethargic mode that had initiated the ride. Not happy with this, they modulate again into an offbeat rocking groove.
Both “Credo” and “Agnus Dei” start with clean and polished tones, changing direction along the way to step into more distorted domains. The former links the cutting-edge precision of Radiohead to the noisy adventurism of Sonic Youth and a bit of Tool’s propulsive stamina, while the latter offers arpeggiated soundscapes and bewildering dramatic chops before an eruptive infectious guitar leads us to the end with its wandering melodicism.
If emotions are at the surface on the formerly described compositions, “Kyrie” goes deeper as it skirts an early atmospheric mood beefed up by the force of anthemic guitar chords. It then segues into a beautiful solo guitar moment followed by a steady 4/4 on-beat pulse that revels in the sublime indie-rock universe. Percussive rattles adorn the concluding circular passage.
To be explored straightaway, this is a stylistically elegant album that oozes beauty both in concept and execution, making us luxuriate in its immersive sonorities.
02 - Kyrie ► 04 - Gloria ► 05 - Credo