Chris Bucheit aims for instrumental simplicity on "Guitar Music"
The Major Vistas guitarist releases a five-song solo EP.
Guitarist Chris Bucheit initially wrote most of the pieces on his new solo release for the instrumental band Major Vistas, a trio with keyboard player Mike Weiser and drummer Michael Brenneis. (Geoff Brady played drums earlier in the band's run.) But after Major Vistas decided to take a break—the band's most recent show was in December, opening for the Dave King Trio at Arts + Literature Laboratory—Bucheit kept working with this set of material and found it inevitably morphing in a different context.
The resulting five-track EP, Guitar Music, still shares a lot of Major VIstas' affinity for mixing the harmonic tension of jazz with the directness of pop music, and like Major Vistas' 2016 album Minor Anthems, it's bright and gentle without feeling sugarcoated. But it's clearly the work of a musician trying to clarify his approach, putting the guitar front and center and dispensing as much as possible with flash and frills. Bucheit wanted to work in a way that acknowledged his own limitations. He played all the guitar and bass on the album himself, using just one amp and a couple of pedals, and restricted himself to just a few of the countless synth patches and plug-ins one can access through music software.
"I just said, 'OK, I'm going to play the bass parts myself. If I can't play the bass part, then I'm going to make it even simpler,'" Bucheit says. He approached the compositions themselves with a spirit of ruthless editing: "If it was starting to sound not as interesting, then I would cut the solo in half, or cut the song in half, or cut a part out...that made everything really concise in terms of knowing when to move on to the next tune."
This might sound like a recipe for some really austere music, but Bucheit's stripped-down approach here actually creates an atmosphere of warmth and ease. Opening track "Blissed Out" builds up its hooks and rippling chords with a calm, almost playful swing. "Modulus" moves at a slightly more brisk pace, but even in its improvised guitar-solo passages, Bucheit chooses his notes sparingly, favoring a gradual lyricism over flash or complexity. This playing is a response to what Bucheit sees as a tendency for contemporary jazz guitarists to over-play: "The jazz guitarists that I like are people that can do that, but choose not to," he says.
There are a couple exceptions here to Bucheit working within his own limits. Nitzan Ravhon, a drummer residing in Israel, plays on all the tracks, via performances recorded on a MIDI-enabled drum kit. The MIDI data allowed Bucheit to capture the flexibility of a human performance, while mapping on drum samples of his own choosing. Two tracks feature keyboard solos from Bucheit's son Eli Bucheit, a jazz pianist who recently graduated from the University of Michigan's music school and is about to begin a graduate program in jazz improvisation at Wayne State University. Chris Bucheit calls Eli "a much-accomplished improviser, more than me." The younger Bucheit's solo on "'Be Here Now" uses a new age-y, flute-link synth patch to offer a slightly abstract counterpoint to the song's genial hook, but it still suits the unhurried spirit of the record. Speaking of abstract, Chris Bucheit commissioned videographer Michael Seiler to make a music video for "Be Here Now":
Chris Bucheit sounds ambivalent about where to go next, and though he played earlier versions of the Guitar Music tracks live with Major Vistas, he doesn't currently have plans to play live behind the solo release. But he also finds that in-between periods like this can be fertile ones: "it's all about these kind of little idiosyncratic guitar pieces that I write. That seems to be an ongoing theme that I return to as bands begin and end. I have a long history of playing solo guitar, so a lot of my pieces, even when I'm writing for a group, are pieces I can play by myself."