Over the last five years or so Wendy Eisenberg has been keeping listeners guessing. Nominally an improvising guitarist, they don’t recognize any musical limitations, perpetually finding ways to apply a deeply exploratory practice to a wide variety of contexts. Eisenberg plays solo guitar as well as banjo in both acoustic and electric settings, warped post-punk songs in the trio Editrix, earworm art pop tunes, febrile post-Prime Time free jazz in Strictly Missionary, and punk-prog in a trio with Trevor Dunn and Ches Smith. As Eisenberg told fellow guitarist Nick Millevoi in an interview for Premier Guitar in 2021, “I need to be in a punk band at the same time as I need to be playing free improv at the same time as I need to be playing songs. All at the same time—otherwise none of the practices will work for me.” Their musical range isn’t a glib manifestation of eclecticism, but a genuine artistic essence.
Eisenberg has collaborated with a disparate array of musicians from all points along the creative music spectrum, including Shane Parish, Francisco Mela, Stephen Gauci, Carlos Truly, Ron Shalom, Devin Gray, Jessica Pavone, Carla Kihlstedt, John Zorn, Miles Okazaki, Matt Mitchell, and Caroline Davis. Still, while thriving in such endeavors, Eisenberg’s solo practice is no less sprawling.
On the 2021 album Bloodletting, to take but one example, they performed an experimental text score which was memorized. Rather than simply performing according to a set of written instructions, Eisenberg drew upon their improvisational practice to see how memory distorted or personalized the process of interpreting a score, performing the same four movements of the text score on electric guitar as well as banjo, spreading the results over separate CDs. On first blush the sounds on the album Bent Ring could seem like another artist altogether. The recording opens with an overdubbed a cappella choir giving a tender reading to the hymn “Abide With Me,” famously recorded by Thelonious Monk, followed by the diaristic self-reflection of “When I am an Artist,” where Eisenberg’s love for sweet pop melodies blends with spiky, unpredictable arpeggios played on banjo.