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Anthony Pirog - The Nepenthe Series Vol. 1 (Otherly Love)

6 December 2023

Anthony Pirog has carved out a nice career for himself as a distinctive guitarist and composer – trained to play jazz, steeped in punk, as at home with freewheeling improv as with carefully layered textures. He’s the kind of musician you hire because you want him to sound like him. For the first volume of The Nepenthe Series, Pirog took the opposite approach: asking other musicians to send him ambient tracks (with the artists deciding for themselves what “ambient” meant) over which he could lay his own ideas. The results vary while still sitting comfortably on the same couch. Red Hot Chili Peppers axeman John Frusciante utilizes something called a “monomachine” to set up a backdrop of synth drones and mini-melodies for Pirog to react with flourishes of his own. Nels Cline uses volume swells and shimmering sustain to push his pal into dreamy atmospherics. Pirog joins with fellow axeperson Wendy Eisenberg for a noisy duet full of grit and crackle. Pirog’s wife Janel Leppin shares a track of ambient licks on the pedal steel (an instrument particularly suited to this approach), leading to the most natural and close-knit collaboration. Legendary Police guitarist Andy Summers provides “Inflorescence,” a spiraling series of riffs through which Pirog can add almost traditional lead lines. It’s not only the leader’s own sound that unites the pieces – it’s a shared vision, as clearly every person from whom Pirog asked for tracks got the memo, even with no instructions. The Nepenthe Series Vol. 1 is as substantial and circumscribed as if Pirog made every noise himself.