Jeff Pearce: Follow the River Home
Jeff Pearce

The 2016 release Follow the River Home offers an exceptionally satisfying sampling of ambient guitarist Jeff Pearce's work. There's much to recommend the release, but one thing in particular elevates it above the ambient genre norm, and that's variety. Without diminishing the overall cohesiveness of the recording, Pearce funnels contrasts of tone, timbre, dynamics, and length into its seven settings such that each one feels distinct from the others. At the same time, each is clearly marked by a distinctive artistic persona and style that sees the guitarist processing, delaying, and looping the instrument's sound to generate dense ambient fields.

Pearce is hardly new to the game. Beginning with the release of Tenderness and Fatality in 1993, he's issued (at least according to Discogs) thirteen full-length solo releases, an album-length collaboration with vidnaObmana (aka Dirk Serries), and two EPs; that four of those releases are on Hypnos says much about the calibre of Pearce's work. Since 2003, his material has found its way into the world via his own imprint, and Will Ackerman, Stephan Micus, Steve Roach, and Liz Story are among those with whom the guitarist has performed.

As often happens, the idea and title for Follow the River Home originated out of personal experience, in this case an observation by his youngest daughter about a creek running through the family property. Noting that said creek empties into the Wabash River, which itself empties into the Ohio and in turn the Mississippi Rivers, she told her father that if ever he got lost all he'd need to do is locate the latter and, well, you know the rest. The story stamps the project with a personal touch, of course, but it also acts as a metaphor for a guitarist who claims that the act of writing music feels much like circuitously arriving home after starting out adrift in unfamiliar territory.

In keeping with its title, the soothing scene-setter “Under Summer Stars” softly glistens, with Pearce using reverberantly echoing guitar strums to evoke the majesty and stillness of the heavens. In some tracks, the guitar is identifiable as such, whereas in others Pearce transforms its natural character so dramatically it begins to resemble a synthesizer, a case in point “Downstream I,” where shimmering, high-pitched washes of synthetic sound stretch across the audio field. Later he uses loops and single-note patterns to create spidery lattice-works of sound for the opening half of “Downstream II” before returning to the synthetic washes that dominate the first, and the ears definitely perk up during “Snowfall” when Pearce overlays acoustic strums with the kind of raw, distortion-rich electric guitar playing one might expect to encounter in a rock context.

In contrast to the modest four- to six-minute durations of five of the seven pieces, “Gathering Stars” liberally stretches out for an immersive twenty minutes. A minor bit of sleight-of-hand is in play, however, as its serene, high-altitude drift and delicate wind gusts derive from two live recordings, the first stemming from the Gathering Concert Series in Philadelphia on October 11, 2014 and the other coming a day later at the Star's End radio program during a live-over-the-air concert. Demonstrating a heightened awareness of track sequencing, Pearce follows that engrossing exercise in suspended animation with the shorter title track, a gentle lullaby that not only closes the circle but also eases the listener out, spiritually refreshed and fortified for the challenges to come.

March 2017