Susan Alcorn Quintet
Relative Pitch Records
I think most of us still associate the pedal steel guitar with the twangier side of country music. Maybe it conjures memories of Western Swing legends like Bob Wills. The sound of a pedal steel was not something I liked very much until I heard Demola Adepoju take the instrument in a million new directions with King Sunny Ade. The Nigerian steel player opened my mind to possibilities way beyond what the Nashville session cats were doing. Susan Alcorn began her musical life playing in country bands, but gravitated to jazz and improvised music in the 1990s and never looked back. Alcorn has played with a number of jazz explorers like Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark and Mary Halvorson over the years. Pedenal is Susan’s first album leading her own group.
The sounds on Pedernal are hard to classify. There are definitely jazz influences, but you can also detect her love for Astor Piazzolla’s tangos. Alcorn’s slippery slide tones bounce off Michael Formanek’s bass and Ryan Sawyer’s percussion. Her melodic lines entwine with frequent collaborator Mary Halvorson’s guitar and play tag with Michael Feldman’s violin parts. Susan’s music is quiet, but not mellow. “Night in Gdansk” is a tour through disorienting bends and unexpected bumps, a bit like being lost in a strange town on a moonless night. The album closes with the infectious, “Northeast Rising Sun,” which takes a bit of melody Alcorn learned from qawwali singing and dances with it across the surface of the moon.