AMN Reviews: Ava Mendoza – New Spells (2021; Relative Pitch / Astral Spirits)

Guitarist Ava Mendoza has had a busy 2021, recording with William Parker, Matt Mitchell and Kate Gentile, and releasing a stellar quartet album with gabby fluke-mogul, Matteo Liberatore, and Joanna Mattrey. She also performed live as the situation allowed. While active for over a decade, 2021 was a breakout year for her, in terms of both musical accomplishment and recognition.

Add to that New Spells, a powerful solo guitar recording. Mendoza hooks her electric up to an amp and effects in order to rip through five pieces. Three were composed by Trevor Dunn, Devin Hoff, and John Dikeman, respectively, and the other two by Mendoza herself.

While loosely associated with New York free jazz, her playing is more grounded in rock and blues. She twists notes and strums heavily-distorted chords, while employing sliding and trills. Speed picking is a component of her stylings, but she also employs feedback to fill the gaps. Her readings of the collaborative pieces are both precise and loose, often jagged and angular. The track by Hoff, in particular, has a distinctive blues feel as well as a prickly melody. The Dikeman offering is the most abstract and makes generous use of extended techniques.

But where Mendoza shines the most is on her own tracks, as she plays heavy, gritty lines with a muscular self-confidence that few guitarists manage to achieve. She manages to be loud and assertive without being overpowering. With an exquisite feel for her instrument, Mendoza fluidly moves from melody to melody and theme to theme in a fashion that comes across as more improvisational than structured, but still connected.

This deep and compelling release came out November 26 as a joint effort between the Relative pitch and Astral Spirits labels.

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