Hofbauer excels when exploring what his guitar really ain’t supposed to do.
Kevin Le Gendre 2010
The guitar is way behind the piano when it comes to its popularity as a solo instrument in jazz, yet there are nonetheless many reasons why that state of affairs should change. Firstly, the wide tonal range of a guitar – especially an electric – provides a rich palette for any player with vaguely orchestral ideas; and secondly, the six-string offers the option of chords as well as single notes, thus allowing a skilled musician to create all important contrasts in the character of his lines.
Boston-based Hofbauer, who, in the last decade, has steadily asserted himself as an original if not maverick exponent of the guitar to be loosely aligned with the mighty Marcs – Ducret and Ribot – and Tortoise’s Jeff Parker, provides a wily and at times engrossing demonstration of those possibilities on this sequel to his 2004 set, American Vanity. Hofbauer skims right over the art-pop divide by interpreting Tears For Fears (Everybody Wants to Rule the World), Van Halen (Hot for Teacher), Charlie Parker (Moose the Mooche) and Andrew Hill (Black Fire). But as successful as his deconstructions and wry commentaries on these monuments are, he perhaps reaches his creative peak on nine originals, the bulk of which actually last no longer than a couple of minutes.
To a certain extent, these numbers are prickly but not humourless subversions of the whole ‘étude’ tradition in classical music, with Hofbauer enhancing a central melodic theme on either electric or acoustic guitar with a barrage of textural oddities such as stinging pizzicato phrases in which notes are not so much plucked as zip-wired into life. The tightness and crackle in the strings magnifies the overall tension already made palpable by the absence of cushioning piano chords or felt-like double bass tones. Hofbauer is more than able to pen a pithy little riff but he really hits heights as a soloist when investigating timbres, and after striking up a guitar equivalent of a saxophonist ‘slap tonguing’, he makes it clear that he won’t settle for what his instrument can do when he can explore what it really ain’t supposed to.