Preston Reed | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Preston Reed


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Acoustic guitarist Preston Reed practices a flamboyant "self-invented" style, characterized by percussive techniques and simultaneous rhythm and melody lines that dance and ricochet around each other. He has precise, note-by-note control of his timbre, whether hammering on the fretboard with both hands, fingerpicking, or blending the two in a deft, contrapuntal dialogue that flickers between a dry pizzicato and deep, chimelike resonance. And in the spaces between notes, he sometimes thumps, knocks, and taps on the instrument's body, creating layered patterns that can mimic a hand drum or a full trap kit. The most impressive thing about Reed's technique, though, is that it doesn't draw attention to itself--though his current CD, the self-released Handwritten Notes, is a series of instrumentals for solo steel-string guitar, they're far from abstract virtuosic displays; even without lyrics he creates vivid, engrossing scenes. Sometimes the effect is almost onomatopoetic: on "Tractor Pull" he begins with muted, churning low-end patterns, then climbs into the upper registers, throwing off brilliant harmonics that glisten like droplets of water--you can almost see a souped-up truck spinning its wheels in the mud. At other times he communicates more metaphorically: "Crossing Open Water," unsurprisingly, is a graceful, undulating piece, but Reed doesn't just drift along; instead he makes a series of purposeful changes in tempo, tone, and density, like a sailing ship tacking against the wind. "The Groove Is Real" alternates choppy chords and guitar slaps with fingerpicked passages that boil and billow like thunderheads, segueing so smoothly and rapidly that the two seem to overlap--the punchy rhythms echo in your head even after he's switched to the lead parts. And "After a Rain," played entirely on the neck, weaves together so many independent patterns that I can't isolate them all--you get the feeling that, were it physically possible, he'd play a separate line with each finger. Wednesday, December 6, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.


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