Ava Mendoza: New Spells CD
Ava Mendoza plays these songs. She makes them sing. Her technique is impeccable, but her playing is astonishingly expressive. She doesn't just bend blue notes; she wads them up into a ball and throws them up against a wall. She manipulates raw lightning, giving us a sound that is fluorescent and powerful enough to leave a trace of ozone in the air. Mendoza knows what she does better than almost anyone else on the planet, which is tell stories with her guitar.
New Spells features solo guitar music by Mendoza and by three friends and collaborators who wrote music for her-- Trevor Dunn, Devin Hoff, and John Dikeman.
Mendoza offers: “New Spells has been in the works for a few years, but all of the music was recorded from home during lockdown 2021 by yours truly. It represents the end of an era and the start of a new one. Many pandemics have been a catalyst for change; they’ve made people move on from the past and imagine things differently. These are spells, hopes and prayers delivered at a gateway between worlds, to say goodbye to one and welcome the next. Their intent is to help set down some of our prejudice and greed as we move into a new world.
As someone who plays often as a sidewoman, I love interpreting other people’s music. Playing solo is one of my chances to play my own writing, which I also love of course. But sometimes I miss interaction, I miss arranging and interpreting other folks’ writing. I decided to involve other folks in my solo work, to do a record that was partly my own music, and part music by friends whose work I love. I wanted to interpret the other composers’ work in as personal a way as I could, so that the idea of “whose” it was became a question as much as possible. I guess I thought of it as a way of making community music, even though it’s a solo record.
The album cover shows me against a background of barbed wire and prickly pear cactus-- a reference to the southwestern US and the Mexico-US border. Having lived many years around southern California and in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this area and its beautiful deserts are near and dear to me. A huge portion of the country’s Native American reservations are in the southwest, their borders marked by fences and barriers. The national border itself is the site of many generations of struggle and death, and of ongoing violence against immigrants, including indefinite detention and forced separation of children from their parents.
Prickly pear cactus (many species in the Opuntia genus), has grown in the region naturally for thousands of years. It’s a big part of traditional Mexican and Native American cuisine and medicine. Both the fruit and the pads are delicious (despined!). The cactus grows where it wants and doesn’t operate according to artificial borders. On the cover, wild prickly pear grows high and overruns the barbed wire border behind it. This music is devoted to that spirit."
Words from the other composers:
Trevor Dunn on 'Ampulex Compressa': "Writing for a solo instrument opens the thought process up to limitless possibilities and I find myself, in some programmatic way, thinking about the lone wolf; the unique individual acting on and for its own agenda.
About halfway through writing this piece for Ava, a recent interest in behavior-altering parasites started to suggest the jewel wasp. I wouldn't say there is any direct musical correlation to this ruthless, calculating insect other than a sense of drive and focus. Perhaps the small intervals represent stealth in a diminutive world. The form of the piece could certainly be retro-analyzed to coordinate with the stages of the wasps multi-tiered game of zombifying it's host leading to the latter being eaten alive by freshly hatched larvae. These things did not directly inform the abstract music but were probably injected in some way (sorry for the pun). The low E string is tuned down to Eb yielding some dissonant harmonics combinations. I also tried to convey a sense of melody, however buried, that could represent the colorful, brutal habits of this creature."
Devin Hoff on 'Apart From': This piece was born from an ongoing series of compositions exploring the intersections of pedagogical composed music and modern folk traditions; specifically in this case Bartok’s Mikrokosmos and bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) that emerged in the late 1970’s and early ’80’s. Mikrokosmos is a collection of short pieces for piano students which highlight independence of left and right hand mechanically and independence of two “voices” musically. NWOBHM bands, in contrast, tended to feature dual lead guitars that often worked together os one polyphonic voice, harmonizing guitar melodies and performing riffs nearly identically, but often slightly (and I would argue intentionally) askew from each other in tone and phrasing.
I appreciated the challenge of tailoring the piece to one single guitar voice, which can only approximate either a piano played with two hands or two electric guitars. And of course since Ava has studied both classical and metal guitar, the contrasting dual-voice aspects of the piece can be realized on one solo guitar, and taken further than what I could hope to put on paper.
"This is a beautiful, powerful, and truly original solo electric guitar record: not just another record, but a new sound, a new voice." -Marc Ribot