Corrado Rustici finds pulse points alongside ‘Transmodern Guitar’ in ‘Aham’
The Italian prog-rock/jazz-fusion guitarist (Nova) hoped to birth a new kind of “Transmodern Guitar” sound with this nine-track album of original music. Relying only on electric and acoustic guitars with analog pedals and digital plug-ins — save for two vocal tracks and handclaps on “The Last Light Spoken — Rustici manages to evoke an other-worldly classic rock orchestra for some far-out mood music.
“When I started to write the music for this album,” Rustici began, “I wanted to find out how far this wonderful instrument and I could go. During six years of work and experimentation, I’ve been incredibly surprised by the guitar’s versatility and sonic capabilities, which have been seldom used or almost totally ignored up to this point. The deeper I went, I became more and more enthused and excited about the little and big secrets that the instrument kept revealing to me.”
What Rustici absolutely did not want was another prog-rock shredfest. He’s long since paid his dues, straight out of Naples and into an international spotlight first with the Italian prog-rock/jazz-fusion band Nova in the ’70s. That gig enabled him to cross paths with Grammy winners Phil Collins (Genesis) and Narada Michael Walden (George Michael, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report) in meaningful collaborations.
“I was absolutely not interested in recording a ‘shredder’ project,” Rustici affirmed. “In the end, it’s not important how we construct a piece of music, but only if and in which way a musician is capable of creating that emotional and — always virtual — space within which both the artist and the listener find a way to share the joy, the pain, and the very reason for our ‘Existence.’”
“I hope that after six years of R&D, I was able to create a musical space within which one can hear the first baby cry of what I like to call the ‘Transmodern Guitar.’”
While Rustici does take time to shred a little here and there (“The Guilty Thread,” “Roots Of Progression,” “The Duke And The Hare”), his higher purpose is never lost. There’s always a push toward evoking some kind of emotion from the listener, emotion that Rustici himself must feel through the music.
I get the feeling that he’s trying to almost literally leave pieces of himself in the notes, torn between a strong sense of urgency and a generosity of spirit.
The shredding part serves that greater good, to connect the listener with the artist on a mood-driven journey toward light beyond this present life, whether it’s in a dream or a science fair into the unknown somewhere else out there.
Rustici never lets the shredding go too far, beyond mellifluous melody and an edgy, progressive undercurrent.
“Roots Of Progression” seems like another light, prog-rock tune at the time, on the surface. But there’s a haunting, shifting undercurrent in the videogame-like bells and whistles that pick up on the good times of past memories when the childhood soundtrack takes on a life of its own. The feeling is that of flipping through a mental photo album while playing your favorite records from college.
“The Duke And The Hare” does seem to go for the prog-rock solo, but it’s more of a guitar vocalizing a weird fairy tale of a story between the here and now than shredding for show. Or, a dying man unable to speak, twisting and turning the dials attached to his emotional wavelength — right at the point where he sneaks his first glimpse of heaven.
“Ananda’s First Steps” conjures up an ancient Japanese lantern ceremony and a baby’s literal first steps in the tentative-to-confident strumming of fingers on strings, backed by a hollowed out rock opera of an electronic tuner jacked all the way up.
“The Last Light Spoken” floats on a gentle wave out in the middle of nowhere, a rudderless soul, a brain in a viscous jar making its own strange sort of sonic connection, and leaving traces of the humanity it once remembered embodying.
It’s hard to believe he’s relying on just electric and acoustic guitars to evoke such a varied sound when listening especially to “Aham Suite, Part 2 (Aham)” in the early beginnings. There’s such an exquisite, classical, old world feel to the robot-generated, transmorgrified vocals blended into the guitar strings intro that easily calls to mind a humanoid in the 30th century left behind, discovering a 1970s tape recorder.
And when Rustici does indeed shred on his electric guitar halfway through, he goes into the realm of amalgamated bliss, the kind of orgasmic rush the robotic vocals only hints at longingly, with as much human emotion as it can muster. The tension this guitarist plays contorts into a contest of wills: man versus machine.
“Alcove Of Stars,” one of two vocals that should not work, does. Despite the New Age hokey-sounding lyrics (“Arms open like sails, I’m carrying the blame, sky boils into rain, our love will not fail”), guest tenor, Andrew Strong of “The Commitments” reduces pretense to a pittance, almost last-gasping out the raspy guitar-esque tenor vocals of a man on the final leg of a long tour around a dying sun. If a guitar could sing, this might be the result.
Rustici also attempts to growl out his own deep, raspy distinction on the other vocal track, “The Guilty Thread” — with less gut-wrenching impact. His voice is strong, compelling at times, yet not strong enough to overlook those weak, questionable, New Age-y lyrics (“Where once your smile scratched across my mouth your suffering, there grows a flower, weaving through my spine like a rosary”) that try desperately to be as deep as the guitar strokes.
Corrado Rustici’s Aham (Sanskrit for “I Am”) is one of those albums that seems to sound like every other prog-rock/jazz-fusion out there. In fact, a lot of his manipulated soaring, spacey dirges reminds me of another recent release: Chad Quist’s Mercury Messenger.
Rustici’s eclectic choices in elevating his guitar-centered tracks, however, begs for a closer inspection. He’s the master of the dense fog, mixing elements of many subtly layered, embedded styles and his own “Transmodern Guitar” technology to jostle that division between the pleasure signal and a deeper connection to the emotional memories music elicits.
Significantly, he’s able to find the pulse points of the emotion behind the mood in the assortment of sounds he feeds in lavish strokes.
While Quist’s Mercury Messenger strikes a decidedly masculine, sexualized chord throughout, Rustici throws out a wider net into what moves us as humans and causes us to look back into our past and wonder about our immediate future.
Artist quotes from a press release by Great Scott Productions.