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Guitarist Margaret Slovak’s style is deeply personal and rooted in her multifaceted creative background. Also an accomplished graphic artist, Slovak writes music that is almost visual while she imbues her drawings with musicality. On her fourth release as a leader, the intimate Ballad For Brad, Slovak presents entirely original material penned in celebration of various life events and people close to her.
For instance, she composed the contemplative title track for her husband, who was battling cancer in 2019. Opening with a guitar fugue, it metamorphoses into a bittersweet tune with gently sashaying refrains that brim with understated passion. Bassist Harvie S engages Slovak in a shimmering and tender duet, while drummer Michael Sarin punctuates the dialogue with a soft rumble.
Meanwhile “Thirty-Three,” written on her 33rd birthday when she lived in Portland, Oregon, is evocative of the city’s laid-back charm and green spaces. S starts with wistful con-arco phrases followed by Slovak elegantly taking the lead with a serene melody. The bassist’s subsequent solo is eloquent and poetic, while Sarin’s use of sparse beats and thrums is quite cinematic. Out of this Zen atmosphere emerges Slovak’s intricate improvisation filled with bluesy nostalgia.
A trend of melancholy runs through the recording, especially on the two pieces dedicated to Slovak’s late sister. On the contemplative “Song for Annie,” Sarin’s cymbal splashes, S’ bowed lines and Slovak’s mellifluous vamps create a dramatic ambience. With superb camaraderie, the trio then weaves an intricate tale with its interlinked individual performances. In contrast, “Forty-Four” is a moving, unaccompanied sonata. Slovak’s nylon strings resonate in the enveloping silence, expressing grief, and the result is evocative of looking through old family photographs. Ballad for Brad is a lyrical work of vibrant and emotive spontaneity. It also balances a variety of motifs with sophistication. Presented in an alluring package adorned with Slovak’s own cover art and poignant liner notes, this album is the guitarist’s best to date. — Hrayr Attarian https://open.spotify.com/album/4u64hGJsxIM4Zy9Vp12h9J?si=Zjr0WN3gQZid25DH4QLG4Q