Unlike most young guitarists, Anthony Pirog has fused a wide range of influences — jazz, country, blues, rock, fusion and pop — into a single style all his own, one not easily categorized.
Pirog’s debut CD on the Cuneiform Records imprint, Palo Colorado Dream, offers proof. On the opening title track, the Washington D.C.-based guitarist, unaccompanied, unleashes acidic tones on various guitars affected by everything from a Minimoog to an iPhone. Pirog’s able trio partners, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer/percussionist Ches Smith, appear on nine of the album’s 11 tracks, including “Minimalist,” which finds the threesome chaotically firing off independent lines that alternately contrast and connect; “”Motian,” a freewheeling romp dedicated to Paul Motian that features solos by all three musicians; and “The New Electric,” which Pirog renders at once ominous and gorgeous through his use of electric and baritone guitars and loops.
“I tried to sequence the record to give it the right pacing,” Pirog says. “‘The New Electric’ is in the middle, and it’s the most produced of the trio pieces. But ‘I’m Not Coming Home’ is an all-acoustic track with no effects, and the last one, ‘Vicious Cricket,’ is our free-jazz freak-out.”
A Pennsylvania native in his mid-30s, Pirog also lived in California (the CD title refers to Palo Colorado Road, which runs through Big Sur) before settling into the nation’s capital. And though Duke Ellington’s hometown is known for its jazz traditions, Pirog’s primary guitar-playing influences are Danny Gatton, a D.C. native who fused rockabilly, country and jazz; Roy Buchanan, an Arkansas native who became a blues icon in D.C.; and Bill Frisell, a Baltimore-born stylist who’s developed a signature jazz-meets-Americana style. To his credit, Pirog’s playing by turns demonstrates the diversity, texture and imagination of each of these primary influences, yet he never sounds imitative.
“I’m not trying to intentionally mix genres,” he says. “I just like the way Gatton and Buchanan incorporated multiple styles, which influenced the way I play. And Frisell was the guy who really got me interested in jazz guitar.”
Prior to the release of Palo Colorado Dream, Pirog recorded two duo CDs with fiancée and cellist Janel Leppin (under the name Janel & Anthony), with each adding loops and electronic effects. These outings helped Pirog develop his sound. Recording Palo Colorado Dream with no prior rehearsals added to his latest album’s powerfully experimental nature.
“I’d heard Michael and Ches, but the three of us had never played together before the recording sessions,” Pirog says. “But I knew what they were capable of, and I’m thrilled with what they contributed.” —Bill Meredith
Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez