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Rafiq Bhatia at Big Ears 2019

[Guitar Moderne]

As advertised, Big Ears 2019 was a guitar extravaganza. My wife Liz and I were able to see Bill Frisell, David Torn, Mary Halvorson, Anthony Pirog, and Rafiq Bhatia, some of them multiple times, as well as other, non-guitar improvising legends and newcomers. Once again, venues like the Tennessee Theater, The Bijou Theater, The Standard, and The Mill and the Mine offered stellar sound quality and sight lines, and the local food was fabulous.

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Friday’s first show was back to the Standard for Rafiq Bhatia.Bhatia’s music doesn’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard, while sounding like everything you’ve ever heard. Jazz, electronica, hip-hop, Indian, gospel, rock, all seamlessly invade his compositions without being distinctly audible as references.

Last year’s Breaking English will go down with works like David Torn’s Clouds About Mercury, Eivind Aarset’s Electronique Noire, and Stian Westerhus’ Pitch Black Star Spangled, as an instant modern guitar classic. The surprise was how well this music translated to the stage. I suppose it should have been obvious that a guitarist as adept with pedals and laptop as Bhatia, joined by a drummer who has mastered the art of triggering extraneous sounds from his kit, along with a bassist sporting pedals and playing keys would be able to reproduce the essence of the record. In fact, the live version was even more powerful, thanks to augmentation by lights, an abstract video backdrop, and the Standard’s terrific sound system, which permitted the prerequisite rearranging of internal organs by the sub-woofers. The show by Bhatia & Co. set a standard (no pun intended) that the rest of the festival would be hard-pressed to equal let alone surpass.