It makes sense that experimental guitar hero and studio whiz David Torn would be involved to whatever extent on guitarist Harvey Valdes (Butch Morris, Sean Sonderegger's Magically Inclined) debut solo album. Torn mastered this studio session and the parallel here is that both guitarists tend to rip boundaries to shreds. Here, Valdes and violinist Sana Nagano most assuredly delve into PointCounterPoint jaunts, cloaked within an off-centered rumination of progressive metal, jazz rock, jazz improvisation and invigorating journeys, structured on ferocious interplay and mounting tension.
Valdes whips his guitar into submission as drummer Joe Hertenstein lays out the heavy-handed grooves as the band also intersperses complex, odd-metered unison choruses into the mix. For example, on "Shuffle," Nagano's somewhat dour opening passages are contrasted by the guitarist's lower register notes, including his bass parts. On that note, that lack of a bassist opens up the soundstage when also considering the leader's slaughtering distortion-laced chord voicings, special effects and blistering leads. Here, the drummer's weighty rock pulse segues the trio into a loping gait with Nagano's flourishing movements and Valdes flickering lines and grunge-style licks. It's a true cosmic breakdown—no doubt about it.

Many of these works project haunting buildups with full-fledged sonic assaults via the artists' highly active roles throughout the production. There are sparks flying all over the place, but this is by no means a free-form sonic blowout, as Valdes' pieces are framed on tangible rhythms and disparate motifs. But the guitarist's hammering and torrid phraseology amid the violinist's angular and streaming sojourns are occasionally offset on "Postural," which is crafted on a fractured and pleasantly neurotic tempo, marked by Valdes' fiercely ascending jaunts, elephantine clusters and Hertenstein's slapping drums and cymbals hits. Taken as a whole, the musicians' killer riffing and tightly woven ensemble work tenders the best of many unusual musical worlds, and for selfish reasons, the sooner Valdes gets back into the studio the better.

Abstract, heavy-hitting, and certainly edgy, NYC based guitarist Harvey Valdes leads a power trio via his 7-string guitar, with assured assistance from violinist Sana Nagano, and drummer Joe Hertenstein. The music is dense at times, and often sounding very precise, yet still feeling naturally flowing as the trio bends the musical logic into melodic mazes. The album is a world apart from the lush solo work of Valdes' least release, Roundabout. In fact, it feels akin to the compositions of Tim Berne, with whom the album shares a cover artist (a striking cover by artist Steve Byram). 

Stacatto phrases from the violin twist around the angular guitar's melodies, running point and counterpoint with the tasty crunch. Valdes' potent mix of powerful playing is counterbalanced by the lithe work of the Nagano, which helps to keep the math-rock demons at bay.The solid brushwork of Hertenstein, keeps everyone in check.

Suffice to say, by the time you make it through the twists and turns of the album, you may not realize how you got there, but you’ll probably want to take the ride again.

Harvey Valdes takes a different approach altogether. While Roundabout finds him interpreting nine familiar standards, he often disguises the songs altogether. He reharmonizes many of the chords, only hinting in brief spots at the melodies on some of the numbers and mostly plays out of tempo. Thoroughly reinventing most of the pieces, he displays a fresh harmonic conception while performing at a quiet volume. It is as if one is hearing the guitarist think aloud, taking his time going from destination to destination. His thoughtful improvisations are consistently intriguing, giving listeners a completely different look at some of these songs. Certainly these renditions of “All The Things You Are”, “Blue In Green” (taken very slowly), “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “I’ll Remember April” are unlike any previous recordings. To enjoy Roundabout, listeners should put away their preconceptions of what these standards will sound like and simply savor these unique versions.

Guitarist Harvey Valdes forms a rock-styled power trio with Sana Nagano/violin and Joe Hertenstein/dr on this 7 song collection. The hard hitting drums make the album more akin to a mix of heavy metal as on “Coil” and “Blackjack” while Nagano’s intricate violin work delivers hints of early 70s King Crimson as on the prismatic “25 Bars” and melancholy “Untitled 21” Valdes’ uses his guitar for solo and for delivering bass like riffs to keep the foundation strong, hitting hard on “Shuffle” and “Postural.” Complex and angular, the music is filled with rock-inspired grey matter.

Guitarist Harvey Valdes brings to us a vibrantly iconoclastic trio outing on PointCounterPoint (self-released). The unusual and well articulated instrumentation is Harvey on electric guitar, Sana Nagana on violin and Joe Hertenstein on drums. Each contributes much to the totality, which is a sort of avant jazz rock with pronounced rhythmic presence and odd or shifting meters that are foregrounded by Joe's definitive drumming. The melodic interplay between Harvey and Sana is most unusual, modern in its chromatic expansiveness, ever-shifting and evolving with the two melodic lines intertwining and allowing space for soloistic improv flourishes.

It follows very original post-fusion advanced form with remarkable consistency and some highly unusual ways that unwind with excellence and give Harvey the chance to show a special solo weight both unusual and with an undeniable logic and brilliance. But then Sana is in there too with counterlines of real worth.

It is the kind of music that states its own case, not bending to an assimilation of the typical, but holding its own in exciting ways.

It is of considerable interest from a compositional standpoint but also gives us some wonderful guitar, violin and drum work in the process.

It is something you must check out if you want something new and very out-of-the-ordinary. Oh, no, I do not exaggerate. This is beautifully new!! Highly recommended.

Recently I read Derek Bailey’s book Improvisation, and one of the things he discussed was idiomatic improvisation, which is improvisation within an established style such as jazz or Northern Indian classical music or baroque music. This is contrasted with non-idiomatic improvisation, which is not bound by such factors or traditions. The use of the term “free improvisation,” while technically accurate, comes with so much baggage that it’s more hindrance than help in trying to describe music. I bring this up not because PointCounterPoint is completely improvised — it’s not, and in fact has some great compositions — but because while the music would probably broadly be categorized as jazz, when the players do improvise, it is not really idiomatic of jazz improvisation as it’s generally known. Which is all to basically say it’s not traceable to the blues, to get down to the root. Of course, over the last several decades, there has developed a lot of jazz that’s pretty far removed from the blues. The trio consists of Harvey Valdes on electric guitar, Sana Nagano on violin, and Joe Hertenstein on drums, and the complex, angular compositions call to mind such things as Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson, Present, Bartok’s chamber music, and complex math-rock. Another reference that comes to mind is Korekyojinn, though with less emphasis on the heavy end of the spectrum. Valdes favors tones with a fair amount of distortion and other effects, and plays a seven-string guitar, so the lack of a dedicated bass instrument is not detrimental to the impact of the music. In contrast to Valdes, Nagano plays it straight tone-wise, using an acoustic instrument without (as far as I can tell) any effects. Her playing is plenty impressive without any enhancements, however; she dives into the off-kilter nearly atonal melodies with abandon, and her solos adopt the same esthetic, giving the pieces great coherence, almost as if the solos had been composed as well. Hertenstein does an amazing job of keeping the energy level high in spite of the erratic rhythms, working with equal parts recognizable patterns and “melodic” lines that match the accents of the other two. Harvey Valdes is a talent to be reckoned with, both as a composer and a guitarist, and this trio is a fascinating creative voice in modern music.

I like the title of this record that plays with the meaning of counterpoint, a cd made by the trio Harvey Valdes (Guitar / Compositions), Sana Nagano (Violin) and Joe Hertenstein (Drums) that seems to bring back to light the concept of power trio. A record that seems the result of a continuous series of different stylistic hybrids of jazz, metal, distorted sounds, atonal, counterpoint and rhythmic deviations.

Solutions not so unusual for Harvey Valdes that already with his first record Roundabout, in 2015, had impressed us with his particular musical melange, the result of his diverse interests and his many musical influences.

The particular use of Sana Nagato’s violin adds hot spices, creating an interesting amalgam with Valdes’s guitar that often prefers to give the main role to the violin, leaving for himself the crucial role of creating a harmonic and melodic basis for dialogue with the drums of Joe Hertenstein.

The seven tracks on the disc easily bring me to remember that peculiar taste of Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin, Jean Luc Ponty, Hot Tuna, Uzeb and Didier Lockwood, but here we are far from fusion and jazz rock of the past. Music recorded on this PointCounterPoint denotes a more aggressive, more frequent and interesting use of polyrhythms and syncopated rhythms, great energy and the intensive use of distorted and atonal sounds that exchange and blend between violin and guitar.

Guitarist Harvey Valdes has a background that speaks to blending influences. He’s likely to name check Napalm Death as an early influence, and his origins run through thrash and death metal, with a little punk and post-punk filter. Then he turned to studying jazz, and the melodic and harmonic interests he picked up academically distinguish his compositions. So if he joined up with an experimental violinist for PointCounterPoint, his debut album as a leader, it might make sense if we got a smattering of genres across the release. We do, to an extent, but it’s more interesting than just that. 

The trio mainly focuses on improvisational jazz (and drummer Joe Hertenstein sounds more comfortable in a jazz studio than in a metal club), although Valdes’ sense of tone draws from his rock background. There’s little sense of jazz-rock or fusion here, even when tracks like “Untitled 21” yearn toward a metallic break out. Instead, the musicians focus on their interplay. 

Valdes plays a seven-string guitar, and he uses the extra low tones to frequently shift his role to that of the bass, letting violinist Sana Nagano take the lead part. Part of what makes the album so surprising, though, is the way the two musicians seem so switch roles on the fly. On the aptly named “Shuffle,” Nagano sets up a groove as much as a loose melody, with Valdes playing a bass line that’s as interested in harmonics as in blues funk. By the midpoint of the song, however, Valdes’ bassline interacts more explicitly with Nagano’s line, allowing it to shift into the role of lead guitar. The metal tone creates divergence in the track, even as Valdes builds on the songwriting that came before. 

At other times, Nagano shifts to something almost like a rhythmic role, but she’s always conscious of how to fit into Valdes’ sometimes heavy and sometimes skittery playing. The interaction between the two is the real treat of the album. The pair switch roles effortlessly, with no loss of attentiveness in whatever position they end up in. That fluidity allows Valdes’ to work almost as if he were writing for a guitar-bass-piano lineup in which only two of the three can play at any given time. 

Of course, eventually the metal has to come out, and the album closes with “Blackjack”, a cut in which Nagano deals like a rock vet and sets up Valdes with a place to turn loose. Joe Hertenstein keeps his playing precise, which aids the other two, even though it would be nice to see him stretch himself more — the drums are more predictable than anything else on the album (here, reliability may be overrated). This track spends much of its time in noise before finally falling into the sort of chordal riffing that crosses from jazz back into metal. With a stutteringly melodic violin on top. 

Justin Cober-Lake

The boldness of the Harvey Valdes Trio should be applauded. There is no shortage of identikit contemporary guitar trios where music meets noise and silence, which present an anaemic, straight-laced portrait of this idiosyncratic music. At first blush, Harvey Valdes new trio disc is no different. He obeys the legal requirements to include distortion and acoustic feedback, with violinist Sana Nagano using dissonant melodic lines and wild double stops while drummer Joe Hertenstein cuts loose with irregular tempos throwing in noise as additional indemnity.

The performances, though, challenge the safe conformity, the curious predictability that smooths the edges in so many contemporary recitals. Where the melody in ‘Shuffle’ or ’25 Bars’ says it should be loud, it is loud. Nothing should be startling about this recording except the raw and inventive contrapuntal elements in the melodies of each song. Harvey Valdes and Nagano, especially refuse to temper these moments with anything that is safe. There is an improvisatory, mercurial air about much of the playing that is truly refreshing. This is especially so in works such as ‘Postural’ and ‘Blackjack’ that do more than merely conjure the ghost of Jimi Hendrix in the voice of Valdes.

The trio’s music is not for the faint-hearted. Sudden jolts in dynamic tempo can hurt the unsuspecting ear. However, in these spirited performances we hear music that effectively illuminates guitar, violin and drumset. There’s no disguising the music’s considerable technical demands. Nor does the playful counterpoint between guitar and violin ever lose its effervescence and luminosity.

There is a vast underground of improvisers known and little known in the ever-mutating Downtown scene. Thanks to our weekly free music series at DMG, I have met dozens (hundreds?) of musicians both locally as well as from around the world. Mr. Valdes has played here at DMG in a trio with Blaise Siwula & GL Diana as well as playing with Sean Sonderegger (recent CD on Skirl). Sana Nagano has also played at DMG with Jeff Shurdut and is a member of Karl Berger's Creative Music Orchestra. Joe Hertenstein is an immensely busy drummer who has recorded with HNH (with Thomas Heberer & Pascal Niggenkemper) as well as with Jon Irabagon, Mikko Innanen and the Core Trio with Thomas Helton & Matt Shipp.
Right from the gitgo, this trio is off and running. This is a solid power trio, tight and invigorating. All of the songs are written by Mr. Valdes, hence this is not just another improv date. Both Valdes' guitar and Ms. Nagano's violin are amplified and wailing, playing tight crisscrossing lines together. This is jazz/rock at its best! Mr. Hertenstein sets up a sly, slow boogie groove on "Shuffle", but Ms. Nagano and Mr. Valdes take intense, in-your-face, raunchy solos. This is sort of a garage version of Mahavishnu Orchestra. I've seen/heard Mr. Hertenstein live on numerous occasions but here he sounds much different as he pounds those tubs with furious finesse. I really dig the way Mr. Valdes writes those complex, interlocked lines for the guitar and violin to play together with the drums providing that powerful propulsive force. Ms. Nagano, who I've heard acoustic violin on several occasions, stands out on her amplified violin here, taking a number of inspired solos, showing that she is a force to be reckoned with. Since there is no bassist here, Mr. Valdes often plays some of the bass lines on his guitar. There are a few pieces where the violin & drums play their lines together while the guitar adds sonic spice or takes another hot solo. A couple of these songs have that herky-jerky, harmelodic groove going on which is no easy feat. This trio often sound as if they are closer to hard-rock than jazz, yet they remain tight, spirited and pummeling none-the-less. - Bruce Lee Gallanter

I encountered guitarist Harvey Valdes on Jeff Shurdut's The Music of Everything, and then Blaise Siwula's Tesla Coils (and also first heard Siwula with Shurdut). Since then, he's begun releasing his own albums, starting with a solo album of standards, Roundabout, last year. Whereas his contribution on what might be described as the more experimental albums above is more difficult to describe, although certainly relevant, Valdes's solo style is highly contrapuntal, exploring harmonic relation (in what has been described elsewhere as a "pianistic" manner). So his is an amazing technique that is very well-founded in traditional styles (including Balkan), even elegantly so, in addition to exploring more experimental areas. One might perceive a balance between these "extremes" (if we are to call them that) in Valdes's first leader album, PointCounterPoint with Sana Nagano (violin, and also on those Shurdut albums with Valdes) & Joe Hertenstein. I actually heard about this album from Joe prior to Harvey, and Joe notes it as the biggest drum kit he's played in a long time: That factor is most noticeable, at least to me, on track #6 featuring what sound like struck, flexible metal strips. I particularly enjoy the combination of sonorities there, but much of the album is more about Valdes's style in combining rock or metal ideas with free jazz & improvisation. Once again, the basic structure of the music is highly polyphonic, incorporating dodecaphony etc. into compositions that often turn to variants on "metal" sound. Hertenstein is playing the drums, of course, and aside from the larger pallet, that role is similar to what it would be in a rock band. Nagano might be said to take the voice part on violin, whereas Valdes plays the "bass part" on guitar & so largely articulates the harmonic structures (of what are his compositions, after all) throughout, as well as adds his own guitar solos. In keeping with the pianistic remark above, one might even say that he plays the "keyboard part" as well. So whereas PointCounterPoint substitutes violin for bass in the standard guitar trio, the violin & guitar roles are allocated differently, and in my opinion to excellent & creative effect. The result is (unsurprisingly) very fast at times, with solos from the drums & violin (during which other performers might repeat some routine phrase, as in jazz comping) as well, but takes on a "rock anthem" mood at times too. The mix & master are for a "big" sound, a la a rock band, so the album benefits from big speakers. Much like Roundabout, which seemed too different from my typical material here to discuss at the time, PointCounterPoint is a fun & surprisingly polished album, in this case with a dramatic style that brought a spontaneous smile to my face. That's always a welcome outcome.

26 March 2016

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Throughout this priceless album the playing is truly inspired. So melodically beautiful are these pieces that you can sense a muted lyric hiding behind each not in sonic lines that fly and swoop in mad arcs mimicking errant fireworks. Best of all is the manner in which these works have been transposed for the guitar, primarily from piano, so as to make them completely compelling guitar works. Each piece brings its own individual thrill. Those who like their music with romantic bravura delivered by solo guitar with added stamina will find this release a richly rewarding experience. Welcome to the magical world of Harvey Valdes, guitarist.

One thing you learn from the best cooks in the world is that they all let the basic ingredient speak for themselves. No self respecting Italian chef adds too much spice to any pasta sauce. The tomatoes are rich enough in themselves.

So it is with guitarist Harvey Valdes on this solo guitar album. He lets his warm and relaxed tone speak for itself without resorting to electronic gimmicks, pedals or buttons. His delivery of “All The Things You Are” is clean and patient, while he exudes class and style on “ How Deep Is The Ocean” and “Alone Together.” He adds a clever flamenco touch to “Stella By Starlight”  and sparkles on “Blue In Green.” Some pensive dreaminess flows forth on “I’ll Remember April”  and he shines like Waterford Crystal on “Invitation.” All these tunes are done with a rich pulsating sense of swing, so you never lose interest in the solitude. Guitar fans will flip!

Though this is my first listen to Harvey’s magical guitar work, I can honestly say that it’s some of the mellowest work I’ve heard in 2015.  His playing on standards like the opener, “All the Things You Are“, is both enchanting and mysterious.  He plays with deep, rich tones (and overtones) that will hold your ears spellbound.  The 5:47 “Invitation” will hold your attention and make you thirst for more… it’s almost as if he’s playing right there in your living room in a personal concert kinda’ way!  It was his unique rendition of Victor Young’s “Stella by Starlight” that got my vote for personal favorite of the nine great tunes offered up… “approach” is everything with solo guitar, and Harvey’s laid-back performance style makes him a favorite (of mine) already.  I give Harvey a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an “EQ” (energy quotient) rating of 4.99 for this great solo guitar release.

He does it with a lot of respect, but also unafraid to re-read this music so different and innovative, using sound and a technique absolutely clean and without snagging. The result is one of the most interesting musical interpretations of recent times and, at the same time, a disc absolutely pleasant, intimate and suspended. Five stars for the wonderful versions of All The Things You Are and Stella by Starlight, alone are worth buying the CD.

I didn't expect this ... knowing New York based guitarist Harvey Valdes' work primarily from his album with Blaise Siwula and Gian Luigi Diana Tesla Coils which worked in a completely improvised and somewhat noisy setting. On Roundabout however, Valdes are treated to sublime finger picked arrangements of standards like 'All the Things You Are' (which really only offers whispers of the well worn tune) and 'In Your Own Sweet Way' by Dave Brubeck (whose lush unhurried arrangement begs repeat listenings).

On Roundabout, Valdes embraces the whole instrument in his arrangements. It's not so much the sense of space between the notes that one savors but rather the beautiful density of the chord voicings, droplets of harmony notes, and interweaving melodic lines.

This is one for the guitar aficionados, it's not out-there, but its carefully arranged songs are stunningly beautiful.

Guitarist Harvey Valdes presents a take-no-prisoners improvisational approach on his solo release, Roundabout, whose nine tracks find him not just improvising on tunes, but
remaking them. His tone is rich, his finger-playing clean and unhurried, and he uses multiple voices, counterpoint,
reharmonization, free association, and a very elastic sense of time to give full expression to his thoughts. The tracks are sturdy, abstract musical journeys—even his sense of swing is abstract—but Valdes’ strong spatial
consciousness and sensitivity to timbre carry an emotional charge. The songs include familiar standards such as “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “Stella by Starlight,” “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” “All the Things You Are,” as well as Miles Davis’s “Blue in Green” and Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” and these familiar melodies all but evaporate under Valdes’ improvisational approach, appearing only fleetingly. His inventions, however, occasionally attenuate and, in conspiracy with his plastic sense of time, can leave the listener searching for solid ground. At his best, though, Valdes carries the listener thoughtfully along on his adventurous inventions.

We have encountered guitarist Harvey Valdes on the blogs before, but this is his first solo guitar venture (that I know of) and it shows a side of him both surprising and impressive. Roundabout (self released) involves a set of nine standards, Harvey Valdes and his electric guitar, and a lot of imagination and chops.

Valdes channels the note-chordal traditions of the guitar as someone like Joe Pass did so well. Harvey picks his standards carefully and creates a beautiful contemporary original take on that tradition. The harmonic sense of the playing is superb, the inventive results all his own and the music ravishing to hear.

Whether it is a matter of Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way," Miles' "Blue in Green" or the chestnut "Stella By Starlight" one gains a new appreciation of the possibilities of the songs by their thorough and brilliant harmonizations and an unparalleled improvisational insightfulness.

This is guitar artistry at the highest levels, make no mistake. Everything is right there for you to hear. Nothing is overplayed but you most certainly do not feel that is in any way incomplete.

Anyone with an understanding of the guitar and its reluctance to yield blissful results will no doubt wish she or he could play like this. If you actually do, then you will recognize a close kinship with Harvey. For the rest of us, we can only marvel at his abilities and enjoy to the fullest.

Roundabout will wow you. This I vow!

"His approach is undeniably clever....This music is cerebral full stop. Oh for a touch—just a touch—of such entertaining masters as Barney Kessel or Herb Ellis"

Harvey Valdes, Roundabout - Recommended Listening!

“If I were rescoring the “human machines” scene of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, I’d pick this track. Accompanied only by a humungous, resonant kick drum and a metallic snare, Valdes’ splintered guitar tones are ….a chilling soundtrack.”   on Editor’s Pick “Listen”


“…one of the most long-lasting guitar improvisations since “Dead Man.” -Berlinale , Hans-Joachim Fetzer

“Harvey Valdes's talents on the oud capture the spotlight at times, and provide compelling support elsewhere.” – freelance music reviewer, Christopher Ruel, on Anistar