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December 2000

Erich Avinger
Poets, Misfits, Beggars and Shamans
Heart Music

A strong hint of early Pat Metheny Group runs through part of this offering by Austin-based guitarist Erich Avinger. After a spirited opening duet with drummer Mambo John Treanor, the band kicks into a Watercolors/American Garage vibe, with pianist Doug Hall conjuring up inevitable comparisons to Lyle Mays. It's not until Avinger stomps on his overdrive/sustain box, nearly five minutes into the tune, that he veers away from Metheny mode. Yet in those moments of easy octave leaps, scalar runs and singing legato abandon he begins to summon up another Austin guitar slinger, Eric Johnson.

Avinger's inherent bluesiness comes out on the relaxed waltz number "Ruined" and the suitelike "Morning Light," a graceful ballad that segues to a funk section and gradually builds to a hair-raising crescendo with Avinger unveiling his nastiest grunge tones before a rock-hungry audience at the Elephant Room in Austin.

The four studio tracks here explore a more adventurous path with Avinger overdubbing multiple interwoven tracks of electric and acoustic guitars while doubling on bansuri flute. Phil Hollenbeck adds to the exotic flavor here with his tabla playing. With the exception of the opener and "Ruined," one would be hard-pressed to call this stuff jazz. But it is creative, well crafted and showcases the talents of an impressive instrumentalist. Fans of similarly gifted and adventurous guitarists like Steve Morse, Phil Manzanera, Joe Satriani and the late Michael Hedges may want to check this out.

Originally published in December 2000
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