Stephen Vitiello

Scratchy Monsters, Laughing Ghosts

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Of all the collaborations an experimental sound artist like Stephen Vitiello could envision and act upon, this one didn't belong to the "predictable" range. David Tronzo is a left-field jazz guitarist with a highly personal, eminently identifiable slide guitar sound. He has been involved in avant-garde jazz projects such as Club d'Elf, collaborated with Tin Machine/David Bowie guitarist Reeves Gabrels, and even ventured once previously into the significantly more abstract pastures that are Vitiello's usual playgrounds, on the 2001 release Bright & Dusty Things. Still, Vitiello and Tronzo could be viewed as an unusual and noteworthy collaboration, and the music on Scratchy Monsters, Laughing Ghosts strikes a wonderful balance between the computer artist's carefully designed textures and the guitarist's gutsier mutant blues. The album consists of four main pieces. The 30-minute "Long Walk (For a Slow Loris)" is split into four tracks that are variations on a single theme, a claudicating motif that pairs a crippled grace with disquieting ambiences -- it would make stunning music for a daring choreography, but on record it gets a tad long. Michael J. Schumacher's piano insertions halfway through the piece rejuvenate it somewhat. "Red" covers a bit more ground while following the same path. "Hum a Little, Mr. Bones" sees both musicians explore different ideas, including backwards guitars and new sound manipulations from Vitiello. The concluding "No Ehru," a trio improvisation with Schumacher, provides the disc's highlight. Here, the musicians step entirely out of the pattern established earlier and truly manage to surprise the listener. Scratchy Monsters, Laughing Ghosts is not as consistently strong as one could have hoped for, but it definitely has its moments. On a reassuring note, fans of Tronzo's work elsewhere will find themselves in not so unfamiliar territory.

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