Alexander Turnquist: Hallway of Mirrors

Both a consolidation and refinement of the advances achieved on 2009's As the Twilight Crane Dreams in Color, Alexander Turnquist's fourth album, Hallway Of Mirrors, once again documents two complementary sides of the young (twenty-three-years as of this writing) New York-based artist: his prowess as a musician, with his primary instrument the twelve-string acoustic guitar, and as a composer capable of distilling a distinctive and personalized vision into physical form. Like its predecessor, the new release augments Turnquist's dense flurries of finger-picking with piano, vibraphone (played with both mallets and bow), and violin, the latter two courtesy of guests Matthew O'Koren and Slow Six leader Christopher Tignor; Turnquist also, as he did on the earlier album, uses that augmented instrumentation as primary voices for the composition's themes.

A major part of the album's appeal is its structure, with Turnquist framing three inner pieces with two shorter solo guitar settings, “Running Towards” and “Running From,” that not only establish the album's resonant tone but provide a satisfying contrast to the more expansively arranged settings, an effect first heard, for example, when the bright sparkle of the acoustic picking in “Running Towards” transitions into a lush flourish that starts the title track on its way. The music's instrumental design expands as the album progresses, with the single guitar of the first piece eventually blossoming into the full ensemble of guitar, piano, vibraphone, and violin introduced on “Spherical Aberrations” and culminating in the album's centerpiece, the sixteen-minute epic “Waiting At The Departure Gate,” before exiting via the brief “Running From.” The haunting “Spherical Aberrations,” a ravishing wall-of-sound of guitar-based rhythmic insistence and uplifting motifs, sets the stage for the even more ambitious “Waiting At The Departure Gate,” which uses Turnquist's acoustic curlicues as a propellant that pulls the other instruments along in its wake. In this case, melancholy thematic material, voiced by violin and augmented by vibraphone, soars over a feverishly insistent base, with the instruments' forward motion intermittently arrested by guitar-based interludes of reflective character.

In terms of sequence, each of the first four tracks is longer than the one preceding it, a move that mimics the movement within a classic narrative trajectory (i.e., the album's climax,“Waiting At The Departure Gate,” is followed by the rapid dénouement of “Running From”). There's a grandiose dimension to the material, an impression reinforced by the generous degree of sustain and reverb with which Turnquist's wholly acoustic material is presented, and there's no flab to speak of either, as Hallway Of Mirrors weighs in at a svelte thirty-five minutes without ever feeling like it's slighted by such brevity. This is, in short, another bravura outing from Turnquist that is, in its own unassuming way, a triumph.

June 2011