CD: With Evening Above
Artist: Jeff Pearce

With Evening AboveThe first descriptive phrase that comes to mind in regard to Jeff Pearce’s new release With Evening Above is “a return to form.” As I wrote in my feature article of his last album, the lovely In The Season of Fading Light:Jeff Pearce is best known for his impressionistic ambient guitarscapes, so the release of this decidedly piano-centric album was an unexpected event for people familiar with his previous music.” So “a return to form,” refers to the fact that this new release is totally guitar-based. As mentioned in the liner notes: “all sounds on this recording are from the electric guitar.” Its good that listeners are informed about this so as not to mistake the sounds for synthesizers or other instruments, and miss the distinctiveness of Jeff’s fretboard artistry. Incidentally, that previous review contains a lot of information about Jeff’s musical history, influences, and background, so I’ll refer those who may be interested to it (see link above).


In addition to being a prolific recording artist with 11 full-length CD’s to his name, Jeff enjoys performing and has shared the stage with such luminaries as Will Ackerman, Steve Roach, Jonn Serrie, Robert Rich, and Liz Story. I had the pleasure of enjoying one of his stellar performances last year at AMBIcon, an ambient music mega-event in the San Francisco Bay area sponsored by Hearts Of Space. As an ambient guitarist myself, for me, Jeff’s set was one of the highlights of this gala weekend. (A video excerpt from that performance can be seen at the end of this feature article below). For over 21 years, his music has received many honors and awards, as well as extensive magazine coverage and radio airplay on syndicated programs like the above-mentioned Hearts of Space and Echoes. High profile projects like The NBC Summer Olympics, Muzak, and Mercedes Benz have also featured his music, in addition to film and video soundtracks.


0As the sun begins to dip below the horizon, we enter the twilight world of With Evening Above, as the album opens with the title track. According to Jeff, “the songs were inspired by many nights spent stargazing.” From the opening notes, one of the first (of many) things to impress me was the exquisite tone of Jeff’s electric guitar. His slowly arpeggiated notes twinkle with crystalline chime like the stars themselves, followed by waves of echoed reflections that melt into a lush drifting soundscape. The inclusion of this track on the album is a bit of a treat since it was originally released on a limited edition CD in 2003, and re-recorded for this collection. It certainly makes for a fitting and dream-like intro to the album.


The next song entitled “The Same Stars” was inspired by a conversation Jeff had once with his daughter Fiona when she was around five years old. One evening when he was talking on the phone to her before bedtime, she asked him: “when you look out at the sky where your are, do you see the same stars as me?” In Jeff’s words: “that question knocked the ‘emotional wind’ out of me, and of course I replied ‘yes I do.’ I knew that, one day, I would title a song ‘The Same Stars.’” Unlike the title track, which had obvious guitar-like qualities, this one is one of those I mentioned that could easily be mistaken for synthesizers. There are no individual plucked or strummed notes, like you would normally hear on a guitar, but there are instead, lavish layers of long sustained chords that create an almost orchestral ambience. Incidentally, Jeff did not use guitar-synths on the recording either – just electric guitar with a variety of electronic effects.


The third track, “A Clear Night” is well named, reflecting the clarity of Jeff’s tone, and is more akin to the first track withjeff-pearce its shimmering articulated guitar notes and ghostly echo trails. At almost eight minutes in length, “After Dark” is an extended sonic excursion that takes the listener deep into the mysteries of the night. Although brief, track seven, “A Closed Circle (Farewell) was one of my favorites and seemed to evoke an enigmatic emotional resonance in me that was moving. By this point in the album I was becoming aware of a pattern from track to track where the songs seem to alternate from ones with well-defined obvious guitar notes to those more amorphous layered soundscapes. I enjoyed the contrast and the yin-yang effect it created as I attuned to the album’s transcendental flow.


But talk about ending on a high note, Jeff brings the recording to a close with an almost 22 minute magnum opus entitled “No Matter How Far.” This composition was also inspired by a father-daughter conversation, this time his older girl Thalia. One night while looking at the sky, Jeff pointed to the North Star and told her: “Even if I was that far away from here, I would always think of you and your mom and your sister.” The inconceivable vastness of that distance is evoked in this epic celestial symphony as waves of ethereal ambience travel seeming light years in the course of its unfolding. Again, the fact that it was all done on guitar is almost incomprehensible.


With Evening AboveThere can be little doubt that Jeff Pearce is one of the undisputed masters of ambient guitar. The range of tones and textures that he is able to coax out of his six strings and electronic circuitry is a tribute to his uniqueness among guitarists. There are very few that I am aware of with the creativity, skills, and vision to traverse this rarified sonic terrain. While I thoroughly enjoyed his previous piano-centered album and appreciated his openness to expanding his sound and artistic profile, it is a pleasure to hear Jeff Pearce returning to his guitar roots, and keeping both feet planted firmly in the clouds.