Bill Orcutt Guitar Quartet
with Shane Parish, Ava Mendoza & Wendy Eisenberg
Although Bill Orcutt’s music has changed dramatically from the noisy squalls he unleashed back in the 1990s as a founding member of the raucous trio Harry Pussy, one thing that hasn’t changed is the way he’s always forged his own sound and musical systems, trusting his instincts and creating some of the most hard-hitting, emotionally potent guitar music of our time. Since his 2009 album A New Way to Pay Old Debts he’s developed a primal, purely acoustic sound heavily informed by the blues, seemingly unlimited while using only four strings, but unbound by the discipline’s structural restrictions.
Over time his playing has become more lyrical, even as he’s switched back to an electric guitar, also with only four strings. He’s gone through different phases—or, at least it has felt that way based on his discography—moving from original material to highly personal covers of tunes as diverse as Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” but his gnarled, stabbing phrases and the way he manipulates repetition and slow-moving shifts to cast hypnotic spells over listeners leaves his particular thumbprints on everything he does. He’s also engaged with electronic music, whether shaping extended drones or toying with mind-melting phasing excursions with open-source software he’s coded. He’s an inveterate collaborator, known best for his remarkable duo with drummer Chris Corsano, but also working with musicians like cellist Okkyung Lee and fellow guitarists Michael Morley and Bill Nace.
Last year he took another bold step with his album Music For Four Guitars. He initially approached the project as a composition for other musicians, but he ended up playing and recording all the parts, a series of terse contrapuntal figures drenched in reverb and aglow in visceral overtones. Each of the fourteen tracks are relatively short and deploy characteristically jagged licks that move in and out of unison, with Orcutt occasionally tweaking certain phrases. There’s a clear minimalist influence in the way each piece progresses and takes a journey we don’t always notice until the music has already arrived in a new place. In his first Big Ears appearance since playing solo back in 2014, Orcutt has organized an ensemble with three of experimental music’s most versatile and distinctive guitarists to bring this music to life: Wendy Eisenberg, Ava Mendoza, and Shane Parish.