Gyan Riley

Pub date February 20, 2008
WriterAri Messer
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

REVIEW I first heard Gyan Riley on the spectacular, otherworldly The Book of Abbeyozzud (New Albion, 1999), by his father, minimalist maestro Terry Riley. The younger Riley’s playing on "Zamorra," a guitar duet with David Tanenbaum, reached new heights of raging classical guitar intimacy.

In 1999, Gyan Riley was the first guitarist to receive a full scholarship to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Since then, he’s been around: he’s had major commissions from the Carnegie Hall Corp. and the New York Guitar Festival, given performances worldwide, and held an artistic directorship with the San Francisco Classical Guitar Society and a teaching gig at Humboldt State University. So the stakes are high for his new full-length, Melismantra (Agyanamus Music). With an almost preternatural sense of musical presence, it doesn’t disappoint.

The four-part "Progression of the Ancestors" suite showcases the range of Riley’s complex sensitivity as a guitarist and composer. He never rushes the moment unless an overwhelming musical force takes control of the song on its own. Tabla giant Zakir Hussain’s elegant pops and rolls and Scott Amendola’s persuasive drumming add texture to the mix. Tracy Silverman’s electric violin playing — introduced prior to "Progression of the Ancestors" on the epic title track — touches on everything I love about not just violin but sound itself. Throughout the album Silverman leaps and bounds in world-turning harmony with Riley.

Melismantra‘s opening three-song cycle, "Mobettabutta," recalls the fusion jazz and somewhat self-interested tone poems of guitarists Larry Coryell and Pat Martino — especially the latter’s odd 1976 album Starbright (Warner Bros.). This doesn’t quite jibe with the rest of the recording, but in a way "Mobettabutta" opens your mind to the delightful guitar perversions of "Herbie Moonshine’s Last Dance." Riley might make thinking people’s music, but he knows how to party.

GYAN RILEY With Tracy Silverman and Scott Amendola. Thurs/21, 8 p.m., $19.50. Freight and Salvage Coffee House, 1111 Addison, Berk. (510) 548-1761,