Following a spate of solo guitar albums — American Vanity (2002), American Fear (2010) and American Grace (2012) — the Boston-based artist Eric Hofbauer gravitated away from the solo idiom for a time. Normal music industry frustrations played a role, to be sure, but it was the death in 2015 of fellow guitarist and best friend Garrison Fewell, a frequent presence on Hofbauer’s Creative Nation label, that threw his emotional and artistic life into disarray. Not that Hofbauer stood still, however. In fact, he dove into the demanding work of a quintet series called Prehistoric Jazz. On Volume 1 he tackled Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, on Volume 2 Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, and on Volume 3 Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England. As fulfilling as these projects were, Hofbauer felt the need to reckon with solo guitar once again. And the more hours he spent shedding, and the clearer the goal became, he began to perceive Fewell urging him on. “Keep going,” he could hear his departed friend say. “This is what you need to do.”
In January 2016, Hofbauer recorded this fourth solo guitar record and called it Ghost Frets, employing the initials “GF” for Garrison Fewell and hinting at the Fewell-Hofbauer guitar duo music that will always stay in Hofbauer’s ears. (The Lady of Khartoum, a duo release from 2006, is a lasting testament to their bond in music and friendship.) “That night in the studio, cutting my tribute to Garrison, it was not a solo recording,” Hofbauer wrote in a blog post shortly after the session. “It was duo, because his spirit was still pulling MORE out of me than I could on my own.”
In his astute liner notes to American Grace, Fewell noted how Hofbauer “comments on varied aspects of American society and culture, covering a wide range of styles from ’80s pop tunes, jazz standards, bebop and free jazz to country and blues.” Fewell also enumerated the skills and creative tendencies on display in the American trilogy: “Familiar melodies reharmonized in unexpected ways, odd-meter phrases of five, seven, nine or seventeen beats that sound perfectly logical, and harmonic form deconstructed and reassembled according to Hofbauer aesthetics that find Ornette Coleman and Robert Johnson in the same tune.”
Surveying the American discs we find that “Hofbauer aesthetics” encompass everything from Erik Satie to The Velvet Underground, Louis Armstrong to Tears for Fears, Van Halen to Charlie Parker, not to mention Hofbauer’s compelling original tunes. It’s a remarkable body of work that has expanded the song canon, and the idiomatic reach of the guitar. Hofbauer continues his brand of aesthetics on Ghost Frets, making astonishing narrative connections between his compositions and the work of Fewell, George Harrison, Thelonious Monk, The Psychedelic Furs, Joe “King” Oliver, and Eric Dolphy.
“As an album of varied and catholic taste the homogeneity of the set is a real testament to Hofbauer’s musical style and vision with the continuity from piece to piece providing us with a unique and original glimpse into the guitarist’s personal take on pre-existing forms and material. The playing is excellent and virtuosic throughout providing us with a real master class in creative solo performance. With this significant and interesting set of pieces Eric Hofbauer has done his old friend Garrison Fewell proud, a very worthy dedication it is too!” – Chris Haines, Free Jazz Blog
“Whether it’s the slide guitar reading of the Harrison song (an impressionistic opening leads to a bluesy and intoxicated reading of the melody) or the traditional yet contemporary take on “Buddy Bolden’s Blues“, this music is engrossing. Monk’s tune has a pleasing swing and like that master’s music, is filled with rhythmic surprises. “The Ghost In You” has a fine melody and a lightness that lasts the entire piece. Not surprisingly, “Out to Lunch” displays the angularity and playfulness of the original. The improvised pieces runs from the percussive “Masafir” (the guitarist creating the rhythm plucking the strings behind the bridge) to the playful rhythmic swing of “Scratchadelic” (listen and you’ll understand the song’s title) and on to the Monk-inspired “Meet @ Office, Midnight” (a bluesy ballad) to the album closer “A Sognare di Bergamo” (another ballad, this one with a Romantic classical feel).
“Ghost Frets” also includes liner notes from David Adler that are well worth checking out, especially for the explanation of the relationship Eric Hofbauer had with Garrison Fewell. The album is a tribute but not in the traditional sense. Yes, it celebrates the relationship of the two musicians but also celebrates the artist’s connection to music. Music this good has stories embedded in the notes and the performances, in the slide of the guitarist’s fingers on the fret board, on the strength of the plucked notes and chords. Each listener will find different ways into this music but, with patience and a sense of curiosity, each person will be rewarded.” – Richard Kamins, Step Tempest
Creative Nation Music, CNM 029
Digital Only Release Date: Sept. 16, 2016
All tracks by Eric Hofbauer (Spice-E Music) except Track 1 & 3 by Garrison Fewell, Track 4 by Richard L Butler & Timothy Butler. Track 5 by Joe “King” Oliver, Track 7 by Eric Dolphy, Track 9 by George Harrison, Track 10 by Thelonious Monk