Swedish-born and New York-based experimental guitarist Anders Nilsson produces music that is at once bracingly direct and utterly unclassifiable. My review of his wonderful new album “Night Guitar” appeared in the January 2012 edition of The New York City Jazz Record.
Listening to this deeply focused and atmospheric solo performance again and again, it’s hard to escape the notion that Night Guitar is more than a little biographical in nature.
Guitarist Anders Nilsson isn’t shy about sharing the details of his musical journey. On his website, the young guitarist recounts his upbringing in Sweden, his love of — and subsequent disillusionment with — Swedish shred guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, his move to New York a decade ago, and achieving musical liberation while busking in Manhattan subway stations.
These experiences permeate the vignette-like movements of Night Guitar, often in surprisingly direct ways.
On “Meet Me In The Back Alley,” Nilsson opens with a moody bass drone that he quickly adorns with plucked scale tones and micro-tonal string bends. Transitioning to a second mini-movement, he introduces a rhythmic chordal pattern that is quickly overtaken by overdubbed, and overdrive-laden distorted guitar chords. The effect is shocking, and even comical, but it’s clear that schtick is not Nilsson’s game. He’s simply integrating the sounds of his life without the filter that limits most artist’s sonic choices.
The distortion effect — a clean, highly condensed tone that nods toward guitarists like Malmsteen and sonic experimenters like Sonny Sharrock — reappears throughout the album, almost always without warning — a reminder not to get complacent on this shape shifting and emotionally resonant music.
On “Breakfast Boogie/Nightmare Ballad,” — which can be heard above in a music video by Arrien Zinghini – Nilsson’s considerable skills as a cinematic composer are apparent from the first ostinato bass notes, which establish the foundation of a structure that remains throughout the tracks careful edits and overdubs. You can almost imagine a shadowy figure flickering across a screen as the crosshatched patterns and effects Nilsson conjures make way for pulsing, bent high note punctuations, just as the piece grows from a tangle of interconnected phrases into a sprawling and diffuse panorama that somehow never loses its tense, claustrophobic feel.
Equally foreboding is the album’s episodic closer, “The Journey Beyond,” which manages — more than any other track on Night Guitar — to blend Nilsson’s vast sonic influences into single composition. The result is an epic, and often melodramatic, performance that tests the bounds of genre bending without losing its laser-like compositional focus.