Anthony Pirog’s name received a boost when he teamed up with half of the iconic punk band Fugazi to form the instrumental power trio the Messthetics in 2018. But the guitarist had already established his bona fides on the DC jazz and experimental music scene, as a bandleader and half of the duo Janel and Anthony. Pocket Poem presents the second meeting of his trio with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer/percussionist Ches Smith, following 2014’s Palo Colorado Dream.
This album could be a soundtrack for some film depicting a journey across sun-scorched American backroads, as seen through the eyes of a protagonist who wrestles with inner demons. Pirog’s guitar tells such stories, whether he plays loud and electric or picks acoustically, his fingers scratching the strings as he changes chords. Guitar synthesizers, which don’t usually deliver drama, frequently contribute to the mood. They often sound like trumpets that harmonize behind the guitar. Two tracks reach the five-minute mark, but most are significantly shorter, with six lasting less than two minutes, their brevity making them feel all the more like movie cues. And “Mori Point” even begins with something that sounds like the purr of an old film projector. The music ranges from spare lines to busy arpeggios, all of it one part eerie and one part beautiful.
Much of the album sounds like Pirog in solitude, but his trio mates exert themselves at appropriate points. Formanek adds contrast with an acoustic solo amid electricity (“Adonna the Painter”) and heavy bowing against a clean guitar (“Untitled Atlas”) before things get free. Smith often plays with restraint but his electronics add to the atmosphere as well. Even if the soundtrack is imagined, Pirog offers plenty of imagery for a plot.