Solitude Intones Its Echo is a collection of 18 introspective solo guitar improvisations by Brooklyn-based jazz guitarist Harvey Valdes. The pieces paint different moods and textures that show impressions of Ted Greene, John Stowell, Lenny Breau, Thelonious Monk and contemporary classical guitar. Mixed and mastered by David Torn, the album is a delight to listen to.
These are more modern and impressionistic pieces leaning toward free jazz sensibilities but with tonal, melodic and thematic coherence. If you’re looking for ‘standards’ sounding chord melody playing, you’re in the wrong place. However, if you’re looking for tasteful musical solo guitar playing, this album might be your cup of coffee.
Some pieces like Whose Shadow begin with lyrical legato single note melodies that are augmented with double stops and the occasional sustained melody. Others like Still There open with low register notes in counterpoint with the melody. Harvey plays with different textures and is great at mixing sustained open string notes that bleed into the other fretted notes.
Excavation brings forth some Ben Monder-eque vibes with the darker harmonic palette. Crooked plays with rhythm creating dissonance via the rhythmic interplay. Screen Memory stretches phrases that react to each other before disappearing. The Second Points the Way made me uncomfortable with the melody in the lower register with the repeating various second interval diads on the top part.
The pieces range in duration from just over a minute to under four minutes. Harvey does just the right amount of exploration for each piece. He paints the mood, makes it linger just a bit before ending it.
This is the kind of music from an artist who is balanced in his melodic, harmonic and emotional expression. A sonic delight for fans of improvised solo guitar playing.
TLDR: If you’re a fan of the solo guitar work of musicians like John Stowell, Ben Monder, Julian Lage, Leo Brouwer or Andrew York – you might enjoy this outing by Harvey Valdes.
You can get the vinyl and digital album here: https://destinyrecords.bandcamp.com/album/solitude-intones-its-echo
A guitarist of searching, sophisticated musicality, the Brooklyn-based Harvey Valdes released his third album – Solitude Intones Its Echo – via Destiny Records on September 20th, 2019. The album, available on vinyl and digital/streaming, features Harvey communing with his electric six-string Teuffel Tesla guitar for a collection of concise, engaging solo improvisations. A mosaic of 18 melody-laced pieces, most around two minutes in length, the record has a quality of concentrated intimacy; sage guitarist and studio ace David Torn mixed and mastered Solitude Intones Its Echo, heightening its atmosphere of contrapuntal introspection. The new album follows Harvey’s solo debut of free takes on jazz standards (Roundabout, 2015) and a bristling, Mahavishnu-meets-math-rock trio album (Pointcounterpoint, with violinist Sana Nagano and drummer Joe Hertenstein, 2016). All About Jazz hailed Pointcounterpoint as “cosmic,” while the Free Jazz Collective described Roundabout as “sublimely beautiful.”
Solitude Intones Its Echo was born from Harvey’s series of “morning improvisations” that he posts regularly on Instagram. He explains: “The album developed out of this exercise in creativity and discipline, where I was trying to make an actual piece of music each morning and share it, something of one minute or less that I streamed live. The process of playing solo, just you and your instrument, becomes this dialogue that you have with yourself. It’s important for any sort of artist to go deep within yourself and bring out what’s inside.”
Torn, who also mastered Pointcounterpoint, bonded with Harvey over guitar and gear (as well as the oud, which both artists play); although decades apart in age – Torn is a longtime ECM artist and composer of high-profile film scores, among much else – the two musicians share a sense of sonic adventurism that runs deep. “When I first heard Harvey, I thought: Well, here’s another badass motherfucker on the scene – wow,” Torn says. “He – like Brandon Seabrook, Mike Baggetta and Alvaro Domene – is one of the young cats I keep up with, one of those special players who has something to say, musically and sonically. Harvey is a special character, seeking his own voice. It’s a real challenge to play improvised solo electric guitar in an individual, alluring way, but Harvey has a flair for leaving space, for holding back in order to play just the right thing.” The admiration is mutual, with Harvey saying of Torn: “He has been such an inspiration over the years as a guitarist, as well as for his ability to maximize things sonically in the studio. David gets what I’m after and really helped me sculpt the sound for the new album.”
Solitude Intones Its Echo includes such highlights as “But All Too Prone,” “Everything You Need” and “Still There,” which are kaleidoscopic in their allure – with strong melodies refracted contrapuntally; then there’s the splintered, Monk-like “Scavenger” and rhythmically tense “The Second Points the Way,” as well as the dark-hued “Learned Mercy” and ghostly tone poem “Dismantling Silence.” Along with his “space age-looking” Teuffel Tesla, Harvey employed just his Fryette Memphis amp, plus a touch of reverb via a Strymon Flint pedal. Then Torn added a bit more reverb in the mix for a sound that’s simultaneously Spartan and lush. A new aspect of Harvey’s tone came from this album being “the first where I used a fingerstyle playing method throughout, dropping the pick,” he explains. “Fingerstyle brings out a more polyphonic element in my playing.”
Harvey listened to Cecil Taylor’s solo LPs “over and over as I was preparing for this album,” he says. “My playing sounds nothing like his, of course, but that force and conviction he had – I was trying to absorb some of that. I also listened to a lot of Leo Brouwer’s solo classical guitar, as well as classical piano. I would put on the music of Scriabin and Schoenberg and imagine that it was being improvised. I didn’t grow up listening to those composers, so their early-1900s modernist harmonies sound incredibly refreshing and inspiring to me now. It’s also fascinating the way those composer-pianists developed such individual soundprints on a traditional acoustic instrument. I tried to approach that in imaginative terms.”
Roundabout had seen Harvey radically reinventing standards, deconstructing and re-composing them. “That album was about using those old songs as a leaping off point to explore a pianistic approach to guitar, developing a solo language for myself with closer intervals and extended harmonies,” he explains. “Solitude Intones Its Echo applies that impulse to spontaneous composition, creating music in the moment but music that isn’t meandering, that has form and concision. Most of the pieces are only about two-minutes long, with the goal of being melodically and harmonically focused. There’s a cerebral aspect to solo improvised guitar music, obviously, but I think melody is the central feature in most of these pieces. The goal is to elicit an emotional response in the listener.”
In a recent feature on Harvey, Guitar Moderne said: “It is hard to reconcile the young Harvey Valdes who grew up loving Napalm Death and Sepultura with the man who plays sensitive standards like ‘April in Paris’ on solo guitar. You might find the child more visible in the man who rocks his Trombetta FeederBone in duo with drummer Damion Reid. In both contexts, Valdes brings a personal approach that is tasteful even when it is being aggressive, with a deep appreciation of tone as the starting point of music.” He has worked with artists from Butch Morris, Karl Berger and Rhys Chatham to Daniel Carter, Bombay Rickey and the Middle Eastern/Balkan jazz ensemble Anistar, among many others.
Playing both six-string and seven-string guitars, as well as the oud and Turkish cümbüş, Harvey can traverse styles from avant-jazz and progressive metal to Middle Eastern/Balkan music and improvised film scores. He has a vast curiosity about the guitar’s sonic range, pushing its potential; highlighting texture, stretching time and shaping tone, he re-imagines the guitar as a horn, an orchestra, a mechanistic roar. His score for Utopians, which premiered at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, constituted “one of the longest-lasting guitar improvisations since [Neil Young’s score for] Dead Man.” Harvey’s composition “Listen” was chosen as an Editor’s Pick by Guitar Player magazine. He held the oud/guitar chair for the Tony, Grammy. and Emmy-winning Broadway musical The Band’s Visit. He has subbed on Broadway shows The Book of Mormon and Tootsie. He toured Europe and the U.S. with The Wooster Group’s production of Francesco Cavalli’s 1641 opera La Didone, playing electric guitar and guitar synth. Harvey teaches Western and Eastern styles of music, as well as guitar and oud. He is a featured instructor for TrueFire.com.