• Marcus Stern
  • Eric Hofbauer

Boston guitarist Eric Hofbauer considers the three solo albums he made between 2004 and 2012 a trilogy “about process, coming of age, or coming to terms with the internal and external world.” That’s quite a statement for three records of instrumental music, and without his voluminous, erudite liner notes it would be pretty hard to glean any sort of greater meaning from the performances. In fact, I’m not particularly interested in that greater meaning, but the music offers all I could expect or want. Hofbauer is a terrific player, treating original tunes, jazz standards, modern pop-rock songs, and blues with a distinctive touch; gnarled, melodic, spikey, and dense. There’s a deep affection for the material inherent in his interpretations, and that familiarity and ease allows him to take some of the tunes to surprising places.

Last year’s American Grace (Creative Nation Music), the final album of the trilogy, is filled with some memorable performances, including a take on the Beatles classic “Dear Prudence” that plays hide-and-seek with the melody and form, taking harmonically obtuse detours and making nonchalant melodic extrapolations that never lose the thread of the original. There’s a woozy, slo-mo spin through Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues,” opened by the guitarist’s transcription of Satchmo’s brilliant introduction on the original 1928 recording, followed by the phrases that jab and stutter with wonderful bent notes. I’m particularly fond of Hofbauer’s version of the Ornette Coleman tune “Peace,” which you can hear below, He also tackles “Cheer Up, Charlie,” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, “Stella by Starlight,” Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Moves on the Water,” where he serves up some nasty-sounding bottleneck maneuvers, and even a sacred harp hymn. The guitarist’s original pieces mix the program up with terse blasts of abstraction (most are under 1:30) and slightly meandering excursions, but Hofbauer rarely gets stuck with a weak idea for too long. He’s a jazz guitarist for sure, but his sound owes much more to folks like Derek Bailey and Marc Ribot than to Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery.


On Thursday Hofbauer will play a solo set at Elastic, followed by a set of improvisations with saxophonist Dave Rempis and drummer Tim Daisy.

Today’s playlist:

Aruán Ortiz & the Camerata Urbana Ensemble, Santiarican Blues Suite (Sunnyside)
John Ellis, It’s You I Like (Criss Cross)
Toshio Hosokawa, String Quartets (Neos)
Hush Arbors, Hush Arbors (Ecstatic Peace)
Harris Eisenstadt, Canada Day Octet (482 Music)