“[Pocket Poem] is AAA+++
Best guitar album of the year so far; he did everything right.
I am super impressed.” – Henry Kaiser

"This is a fine album, lush, diverse and filled with texture--but notably grounded in musicality, structured as an album, and a continuous piece of content. It’s very good, and it sounds like the work of one highly skilled player whose muse is taking him to that special place where genre classifications have no meaning. You’ll like it if you hear it, so maybe you should.
Rolling Stone

"[Palo Colorado Dream] covers a sprawling musical terrain–avant jazz, atmospheric soundscapes, earthy Americana, math-rock...with an arsenal of effects hardware and studio production techniques..."

"So this is what all the fuss is about...Palo Colorado Dream (is) ear-opening display of his stunningly wide range of talents."
All Music Guide

"One of jazz’s most reliable conduits to a living, breathing audience is electric-guitar heroism, and Anthony Pirog, from Washington, who has built great chops and technique while remaining fairly little known, seems poised to become a hero of the instrument."
The New York Times

"A record that’s equally capable of enchanting you and pummeling you with many shades of aura in between, Palo Colorado Dream catapults Anthony Pirog into the corps of elite experimental guitarists."
Something Else Reviews

"...the D.C.-based guitarist creates swirling sonic textures while also unleashing distortion-laced fussilades...incorporating personal six-string and electronic touches of his own on this provacative debut."

Washington, D.C.'s jazz and experimental music scenes wouldn't be quite where they are today without Anthony Pirog. The guitarist, composer and loops magician is a quiet but ubiquitous force on stages around his hometown. With fearsome chops and a keen ear for odd beauty, Pirog has helped expand the possibilities of jazz, rock and experimentalism in a town long known for its straight-ahead tradition.

Anthony's roots as a guitarist are in the work of D.C. guitar heroes Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan, and their virtuosic technique that blended all styles of popular music.

He has taken and built upon those roots, working in straight and experimental jazz, improvisation and electronics/looping, and he somehow takes these styles, all of which he has mastered and makes them all work together and also makes them all his own.


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In music, the art of the trio involves a delicate balance and holds the potential for great power. On Anthony Pirog's Pocket Poem, his second solo album and fifth release on D.C. based Cuneiform Records, the Washington D.C. alt guitar hero and his rhythm section wring all the beauty, majesty, and mayhem possible from their triumvirate. Pirog is to guitar what Michael Jordan was to basketball — he's capable of anything he can conceive, and his conception covers quite a bit, from ambient atmospheres and mind-melting electronic subversions of sound to lyrical acoustic picking and fiery fusion.

One of Pirog's most recent projects before releasing Pocket Poem was a band that redefines the rock power trio (a concept that runs all the way back to the days of Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience). Pirog teamed with hometown legends Brendan  Canty and Joe Lally of punk rock superband Fugazi to form The Messthetics, releasing two albums on Ian MacKaye’s iconic D.C. label Dischord and delivering their post-post-punk brain/brawn merger to tens of thousands at the 2019 Coachella festival.

But rock is not the only arena in which trios hold a powerful sway. From Oscar Peterson to Wes Montgomery, some of jazz’s greatest moments were also realized by trios. And from the time Pirog was studying music at Berklee College of Music, specializing in jazz guitar, and NYU, where he received a degree in jazz performance, progressive jazz was part of his artistic DNA.

Returning to D.C. after graduation, he and local cello star Janel Leppin blended improv, ambient, and electro-acoustic sounds as Janel and Anthony, which quickly became one of the Capital City’s most in-demand live acts and released several albums, including Where Is Home (Cuneiform 2012). D.C.’s diverse music scene thrived in the new millennium, and Pirog played with countless musicians in the city’s jazz, experimental, rock and modern classical scenes. He also began recording with nationally established, older musicians.  Pirog's blend of searching and searing guitar found its way into works by avant-jazz hero William Hooker, free improv guitar giant Henry Kaiser (on 2019 Cuneiform release Five Times Surprise), and more.  In The Spellcasters, which included late guitar-legend Danny Gatton’s rhythm section (John PreviteBarry Hart) and guitarists Joel Harrison and Dave Chappell, he recorded Music of the Anacostia Delta (Cuneiform 2016), which celebrated D.C.’s indigenous, hybrid guitar sound. But when Pirog partnered with acoustic bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Ches Smith for his first solo session, 2014's Palo Colorado Dream (also on Cuneiform) he happened upon a special kind of chemistry.

Formanek is a jazz vet who's recorded with Dave LiebmanFred Hersch, and the Mingus Big Band, as well as popping up on albums by Elvis Costello and the like. Smith is a fixture of the downtown NYC scene who's worked with other forward-thinking guitar conceptualists like Mary HalvorsonMarc Ribot, and Elliott Sharp, in addition to making records with Tim BerneJohn Zorn, and countless others.

When the three first came together, their ability to egg each other on to fresh territory led to some lightning-in-a-bottle moments. So it isn't hard to see why Pirog would summon Formanek and Smith back to the studio for his second solo project. After reaching new heights with Messthetics, he returned to the trio that first showed the world the range and reach of his guitar gifts.

For Pocket Poem, Pirog decided to expand the trio's palette by mixing modern technology with vintage guitar synthesizers. "The use of guitar synths by John Abercrombie and Allan Holdsworth is very interesting to me," he says, "and I wanted to explore the timbral possibilities available using these instruments in the recording process."

Envision Adrian BelewTortoiseBill FrisellBert Jansch, and Brian Eno squeezing into a particle accelerator. The end result after flipping the switch might sound something like Pocket Poem. The album touches on every aspect of Pirog's musical personality — rock, jazz, avant garde, electronic, even folk — and with his cohorts' contributions, it all arrives at a place that's progressive in the most literal sense. At once exploratory and reflective, subtle and storm-brewing, organic and high-tech, Pocket Poem establishes Pirog's place not just as a major guitar threat but as a gifted composer.

The album opens on a gently ominous note with "Dog Daze," as Pirog lays down a sprinkling of subtly disquieting textures befitting a film noir soundtrack, before things erupt halfway through into crashing power chords, martial rhythms, and grandly gliding, Robert Fripp-like lead lines, for a King Crimson murder mystery vibe.

Electronics drift gracefully into the mix with the pretty pointillism of "Dawn Cloud," as they waltz with watercolor guitar melodies and Smith's impressionistic brushwork. Meanwhile, Pirog's acoustic side slips into the spotlight with the downright folky fingerpicking of "Sitting Under Stars," evoking a place somewhere between John Fahey's "American primitive" style and '60s Britfolk.

"The Severing" keeps the gentle arpeggios going, but with an aqueous, electric tone complemented by ambient swells, for a feel not a million miles from some of Terje Rypdal's legendary ECM sessions.

The trio's interdependence really comes into focus on "Adonna the Painter," as Formanek's sustained notes and Smith's whispering cymbals become one with Pirog's plangent splashes of color. After Pirog unfurls some delicate melodic daubs, Formanek's tumbling bass solo carries the conversation forward, with Smith's toms providing the perfect punctuation.

At the album's midpoint, the title track provides a kind of palate cleanser/dividing line, making the most of wide open spaces and deftly applied dissonances. Simple lines hang suspended in mid air, saying more than a million frenetic flurries of notes could, as minimalism commands the moment.

On Pocket Poem's second half, it sometimes seems like a mischievous gremlin has crept into the inner workings of the Pirog/Formanek/Smith machine and begun engaging in subversive hijinks. On "Mori Point" crazed electronics crash against Smith's volcanic drumming for the distinct impression of clock springs dramatically coming unwound.

Even the seeming calm of "Beecher" is deceptive — amid a sea of reverb and delay, Formanek' alternately bowed and plucked bass and Pirog's trumpet-like guitar synth suggest something mysterious stirring beneath the water. But there's no gray area involved in "Spinal Fusion," where frantic electronic beats and rapid-fire guitar bursts let you know what it would feel like to be trapped inside a video game gone insane.

About a minute into "Untitled Atlas," the machinery-gone-wild vibe is amplified as we're thrust inside the fraying neural networks of a crashing computer. Smith's clattering percussion, Pirog's mad-scientist electronics, and Formanek's insistent thrumming provide a guided tour to a complex mechanism's internal destruction. Call it high-tech free improv.

Pocket Poem makes concision a virtue. Tracks exceeding two minutes are in the minority, as the trio makes its points and moves along. It's no accident. "This collection of pieces is focused on shorter statements that don’t rely on extended 'blowing sections,'" Pirog explains. "My aim was to explore succinct harmonic and melodic movements that would collectively weave a narrative and arc together." For all the album's stylistic shifts, the trio weaves that arc expertly, and Pocket Poem provides a wake-up call to those who've been sleeping on Pirog's status as one of America's most promising guitar stylists.

Pocket Poem press release

Buy this album



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Palo Colorado Dream — recorded with the all-star trio of Michael Formanek (ECM solo artist, Tim Berne, Thumbscrew) on bass and Ches Smith (John Zorn, Secret Chiefs 3, Marc Ribot) on drums — is Pirog’s debut solo album, and it marks the young innovator’s entrance onto the national stage. The album has an immersive depth and understated allure that hold the listener rapt. And they illustrate all the various realms of Pirog’s artistry: the spinning fantasy-scape of his loops and the hard-nosed technical power of his soloing, his patience with a slow build and his knack for moments of fierce catharsis.

Palo Colorado Dream press release

Buy this album

For press and media: cover art and high resolution images are available below for download (click thumbnail, right-click image and select "Save As.."). Please credit the photographer (when available) and "Courtesy of Cuneiform Records". For more information, click here.

Pocket Poem
Palo Colorado Dream

Pocket Poem press release
Palo Colorado Dream press release

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Cuneiform Records 2014

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