Albert Vila: “Levity”

(Hypnote records, in Japan: Mocloud Records, Release Date: January 13 2023) 

Solo guitar (where melody, chords and bass are all performed simultaneously by one guitarist) is something that is very difficult to explain to people who can’t do it at all. To the average listener, it might seem to be the same thing that’s happening when they see a friend of theirs singing a pop or country song by whacking away at a guitar with a pick or a repeating finger picking pattern on the 3-4 chords in the song again and again, but that has as much to do with solo guitar playing as finger painting has to do with The Mona Lisa.

For that reason, it’s something that you won’t see very many guitarists do. Besides relatively few of them having the ability, it’s very physically and mentally draining; and as such difficult to come up with interesting and compelling arrangements to keep listeners engaged for one solo guitar piece, let alone and entire album of them. Because of that, it takes both a lot to do one, and a LOT to get me to listen all the way through an entire record of solo guitar performances.  All that being said, Albert Vila has created a collection of solo guitar pieces in his new “Levity” that have the level of creativity, musicality, and virtuosity of anything that the likes of Pat Metheny, Julian Lage, Ralph Towner or Bill Frisell have done in this genre.

The opening track “Elenor Rigby” pretty much says everything that you need to know about his playing, and since in the modern age few people will listen to anything without a video to watch, Vila has provided one for this track at the link below. In this Beatles classic, he shows a harmonic knowledge that few guitarists even get in the same solar system with, making it all look easy by very the clever use of open strings etc. to keep his sound painting flowing with a flawless execution of harmonics.

A Felicidade” starts with a finger style medium samba style montuna to set up the melody of the tune. Most guitarists these days would have fed that pattern into their Looper pedal and then based the whole tune on playing over that, but he keeps everything “live” and played by a human being the whole time. It’s a great tune overall, but his ability to keep the baseline going through all his improvised sections definitely put him in a very small category of the best of the best players. 

24 Jun 2021 – Brussels, Belgium – Jazz guitar player Albert Vila. © Bernal Revert

Hijo de la Luna”, very famous Spanish pop song of the 80’s; is a rolling 6/8 time signature that uses a dropped tuning with a huge reverb to create a gorgeous sonic expanse. The overall sound quality of the recording of all the tracks here is remarkable, as is Albert’s control of the dynamics of his instrument, and shows both the advanced tremolo techniques of the classically trained guitarist with the command of harmony of an advanced jazz guitarist.

I always love to hear modern players show what they can do with an old standard, and that’s exactly what happens on “Lullaby of Birdland”. It might take you a while to be able to hear it’s classic melody through Vila’s complex web of shifting and weaving harmonic background, but this is a tour-de-force of guitar arranging and performance, and gets better with every listen.

Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” of course shifts gears here and takes the listener’s ear into a more relaxed place. But the musicality is still impeccable, and I gave a long whistle at the extremely hot lick in the middle of it – I won’t need to tell you which one, you’ll know when it comes up. 

Everything Happens to Me” is a little more into the mainstream harmonically, but still amazing in both it’s musicality and complexity. Albert has as strong a command of jazz standards as anyone you could think of, and has his own way of branding a song to make it his own, and that is what is happening here as well as in all the tracks on this amazing 8 song collection.

The 5/4 time signature of the classic “River Man” really shows Vila’s ability to come up with fresh and interesting ways to apply his command of chromaticism and modal harmony. The rhythmic figure flows underneath constantly as Albert uses his classical right hand to swirl the arpeggiations creating the wonderfully mirky mood throughout. This is definitely the stuff of late night musical introspection.

The final track “Levity” is a short wistful Debussy-esque sort of “tone poem” piece that shows off Vila’s complete command of harmonics on the guitar. It’s a very beautiful way to say goodbye after all that had been said throughout the preceding tracks.

I call the guitar the “one handed piano without a sustain pedal” – if you take a finger off the string, goodbye sound. To summarize this record, Albert Vila does what only a very good piano player can do with two hands on the guitar where it takes two hands to make one note, and he does it in a seemingly effortless way that takes the listener some amazing places where all that matters is the music.

24 Jun 2021 – Brussels, Belgium – Jazz guitar player Albert Vila. © Bernal Revert

This is the state of the art of solo guitar on display for the world here and I would think will get him great recognition. So if I was writing this for Downbeat magazine in the 1960s where everything gets an up to 5 star rating, I would give this 12 stars and to heck with the rules. If you’re a guitar player – get this record.

Doug Perkins

Dec. 15, 2022

Video “Levity” :