Album Review of

Written by Robert Silverstein
December 10, 2020 - 3:12pm EST
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When one thinks of the pedal steel guitar, the thing that often comes to mind is the twangy sound of country music. Yet, there are other musicians that take a more expansive view of the fabled pedal steel and to that list you can include Baltimore-based Susan Alcorn, who returns in late 2020 with Pedernal, credited to the Susan Alcorn Quintet. Recorded in Brooklyn, NY and released on Relative Pitch Records, Pedernal can be best described as a five-part, 42-minute sonic suite that features Susan's pedal steel guitar in the company of like-minded musicians including Mary Halvorson (guitars), Michael Formanek (bass), Mark Feldman (violin) and Ryan Sawyer (drums). Within this adventurous framework, Pedernal is jazz, albeit written and recorded in the scope of contemporary, avant-garde flavored, alternative instrumental music. Inspired in part by the picturesque splendor of the American desert Southwest, Pedernal is nevertheless quite challenging and in her own words, Ms. Alcorn chose to record with these musicians specifically because the music on Pedernal was so difficult and thus required musicians that could not only read music but work as well within the harmonies and improvisations needed to match Ms. Alcorn's fascinating pallete of sounds. In the musical structure of Susan Alcorn’s Pedernal, the perennially popular sound of the pedal steel guitar is revived yet again, this time within a totally unique, yet ultimately rewarding sonic environment.