Nonpareil improvising guitarist Sandy Ewen returns to Chicago | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Nonpareil improvising guitarist Sandy Ewen returns to Chicago


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Ever since guitarist Sandy Ewen moved from Texas to New York City in 2017, she’s been a prolific performer, both at conventional venues (Bushwick Public House, Downtown Music Gallery) and at house shows. Sometimes she’ll gig more than once a day, improvising with the likes of Stephen Gauci, Daniel Carter, Maria Chavez, and Michael Vatcher. Ewen eschews traditional playing methods and technological enhancements, including effect pedals, in favor of a tactile, action-oriented approach to the electric guitar. She applies railroad spikes, screwdrivers, lengths of chalk, and other objects to the instrument’s strings and surface, drawing out a rich variety of disintegrating, elongated, and frictional sonorities. In her solo performances, Ewen patiently builds and resolves tension by exploring these materials at length, but she’s also eager and motivated to see what happens when she mixes it up with other musicians. Ewen is a great listener and imaginative respondent: on Idiomatic (ugEXPLODE), her 2018 CD release with drummer Weasel Walter, she adroitly matches the speed and dynamics of her collaborator’s lightning attack, just as she complements the corrosive rumble of Lisa Cameron’s lap steel guitar and percussion on the 2018 tape See Creatures (Astral Spirits). She tends to play close to home, so while she performs incessantly, she hasn’t done so in Chicago all that often. During this visit, Ewen will play two sets. The first will be solo, and the second will be in a quartet that will reunite her with a frequent associate, bassist Damon Smith, and confront her with two Chicagoans she’s never encountered before: cornetist Josh Berman and bass clarinetist Jason Stein.   v

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