This review appears in the July 2013 issue of The New York City Jazz Record.
By David R. Adler
It’s odd for a solo acoustic guitar album to be more varied, harmonically and sonically, than a lot of full-band efforts, but such is true of Ryan Blotnick’s Solo, Volume I. The Maine native plays an old Martin with a pure and gorgeous tone. He opens with an unadorned “Monk’s Mood,” getting deep into the forbidding counterpoint while letting the instrument sing in a straightforward way. There’s an affinity with John McLaughlin’s treatment of Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” from My Goals Beyond.
But with “Dreams of Chloe” and the other originals that follow, Blotnick uses mainly the same Martin guitar — amplified at times — to introduce other sounds and ethereal illusions. His subtle warbling echo on “Hymn for Steph,” “Michelle Says” and elsewhere create an effect of sustained melodies, even additional instruments where there are none. There’s an impressive sound-design aspect to the recording, as stripped down as it is.
“The Ballad of Josh Barton” and the capricious, lyrical “Salt Waltz” bring it back to pure acoustic, with clear tempos and folk/rock elements that show Blotnick to be a gifted composer. “Lenny’s Ghost,” most likely named for Lenny Breau, stands out at eight and a half minutes as the epic journey of the set, with various sections tied together by a recurring, ancient-sounding theme in ¾ time.
In just 34 minutes, Blotnick alights on a surprising number of aesthetic frameworks, from distorted haze to crisp arpeggiation, from rubato dream states to country-ish feels and strong melodies. Evocative and restrained, the album widens our conception of what a solo piece can be.