Although his earliest musical associations have been with his father, the brilliant paradigm-shifting composer Terry Riley, over the last two decades guitarist and composer Gyan Riley has steadily carved out his own sound world, developing into one of the most lyric and versatile practitioners of his instrument. While he still excels in the world of contemporary music, including his membership in the bracing New York guitar quartet Dither, where he played the music of John Zorn, Paula Matthusen, Ted Hearne, James Tenney, and Brendon Randall-Myers, his playing can’t be contained by any single genre or approach. He’s also worked regularly in a trio with violinist Iva Bittová and clarinetist Evan Ziporyn
In recent years he’s formed a tight bond with jazz guitarist Julian Lage, tackling a wide variety of Zorn’s music, including material from the Masada book. That duo has further blossomed as Nova Cantici, a trio with Lage and Bill Frisell, which is also performing at Big Ears this year. Together these guitarists have forged a dazzling rapport, forming gauzy, harmonically dense lattices of tuneful lines suffused in a resonant glow. As Riley’s experience as an improviser, interpreter, and composer has grown, so has his stylistic range.
As heard on his dazzling 2021 solo guitar album Silver Lining, a collection of original compositions, he has found a powerful, deeply melodic nexus of classical guitar, bossa nova, flamenco, Jazz Manouche, and fingerstyle approaches without privileging any particular element. In fact, what makes Riley so special is his remarkable ability to assimilate so much disparate guitar music and to build something new and utterly his own with those source materials.