Brooklyn-based guitarist Ava Mendoza has been busy in the last year. She played in William Parker’s «Mayan Space Station» (Aum Fidelity, 2021), toured with Nate Wooley’s «Colombia Icefield» and «Seven Storey Mountain VI» Projects, and Mars Williams’ «Ayler Xmas» project. She also recorded during one of the lockdowns of 2021 her second solo guitar album, following «Shadow Stories» (Recipient, 2010), and says that it represents the end of an era and the start of a new one. «These are spells, hopes and prayers delivered at a gateway between worlds, to say goodbye to one and welcome the next. Their intent is to help set down some of our prejudice and greed as we move into a new world».
«New Spells» features five songs. Two by Mendoza and three by three friends and collaborators who wrote music for her – bassists Trevor Dunn and Devin Hoff, and sax player John Dikeman. Mendoza makes these songs sing and tell expressive and nuanced stories. Her technique and the way she plays and manipulates sound with an array of effects serve the tension building and release and these dramatic narratives.
Mendoza’s «Sun Gun» and «New Ghosts» are contemplative but restless and intense pieces, and both reflect the message of the cover art, Mendoza standing against a background of barbed wire and prickly pear cactus. It is a reference to the southwestern US-Mexican border, a site of many generations of struggle and death, and of ongoing violence against immigrants, including indefinite detention and forced separation of children from their parents. The cactus grows where it wants and doesn’t operate according to artificial borders, and often overruns the barbed-wire border behind it. Mendoza embodies the spirit of the rebellious cactus.
Dunn says on his complex and demanding «Ampulex Compressa» that his interest in behavior-altering parasites started to suggest the jewel wasp, and the buried melody in this pieces represents the colorful, brutal habits of this creature. Mendoza follows the twisted mind of Dunn and performs this piece with commanding imagination. Hoff’s «Apart From» belongs to a series of compositions exploring the intersections of pedagogical composed music and modern folk traditions, and specifically Bartok’s Mikrokosmos and bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that emerged in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Mendoza has studied both classical and metal guitar and takes this piece into surprising, abstract avant-metal sceneries and owns it with a sound and story of her own. Dikeman introduced his «Don’t Look» with short instructions: «Please sight-read this piece. Do not look at the following pages. Print on double-sided paper. Ideally, you probably want to start playing before turning this page». This is a more open-ended yet suggestive piece that allows Mendoza to color it with jagged and distorted bluesy shades.
Trust Menoza’s fascinating and powerful spells, hopes and prayers.
Ava Mendoza (g)