Tom Kerstens

Black Venus: New Music for Guitar

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Guitarist Tom Kerstens' 2005 release Black Venus is the first volume in a series of albums on BGS Records devoted to original works for solo guitar, and many of the selections here are premiere recordings. Several of the pieces could be classified as modernist in their melodic angularity, ambiguous harmonies, or moodiness and unpredictability, but nothing on this disc is avant-garde or experimental; if anything, Kerstens prefers to program accessible music with an interesting blend of influences -- international, minimalist, jazz, to name but three in evidence -- which combine in a sophisticated fusion of contemporary styles. Yet an overriding consideration for Kerstens is the tone of the album: more reflective than active, more austerely abstract than vibrantly depictive, and more pensive than entertaining or uplifting. The introspective mood is established in Giles Swayne's modal study Solo, Op. 42, and similarly subdued music can be found in Howard Skempton's concentrated Five Preludes; Leo Brouwer's sparse, melancholic Paisaje cubano con tristeza; Toru Takemitsu's brooding Equinox; and the fragmentary, dark expressions of Philip Cashian's Talvi. More colorful and lively fare is found in Errollyn Wallen's fantasy suite Three Ships; Terry Riley's obsessive, pattern-driven Barabbas; and the short, aptly titled Study in moto perpetuo (Brevity can save the Nation) by Gordon McPherson. The title work, Cashian's Black Venus, is possibly the most challenging in sound and technique, and Kerstens makes this dramatic group of dances the showpiece of the collection. His playing throughout the album is carefully considered and nuanced, and it is clear that he knows the works intimately from the distinctive character he gives to each. The reproduction is clear and quite close-up, so every note is audible, as well as a few incidental noises.

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