BY JOHN SCHACHT
For Yonatan Gat, former guitarist for the Israeli act Monotonix, that band’s mayhem-embracing shows tended to overshadow just how slick the half-clad fretboard maestro at the center of the maelstrom was. But since relocating to New York City and going solo, Gat has been accumulating guitar-stud accolades (The Village Voice deemed him New York’s Best Guitarist in 2013) and peer-admiration at an impressive clip.
Once Director starts, you get why straight away. It, too, is a product of improvised studio sessions like 2014’s Iberian Passage, Gat’s 20-minute solo debut. But these 11 tracks balance much better between improvisatory inspiration and considered structures — and Gat still does some outrageous fretwork here. The LP, recorded live by veteran Chris Woodhouse (Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees) is a product of two environments — the first, a three-day stretch of studio jamming during a break in Gat’s tour; the other, a potpourri of worldly styles inspired by the likes of Nino Rota and Ennio Morriccone. This more considered approach can also be heard in the field recordings Gat gathered on tour that judiciously color the tracks here and lend a travelogue-ish unity to the recording, like scenes from passing train windows.
While just 28 minutes long, Director — which also includes the tremendous Afro-flavored beats of Gal Lazer and Sergio Sayeg’s fluid bass — holds up remarkably well for something essentially stitched together out of improv sessions. The tracks veer from short, pummeling freak-outs to longer, more nuanced melodic stretches, often within the same composition: “Tanto Que Nem Tem” features a breezy Brazilian acoustic guitar overlaid with almost random-seeming explosions of electric feedback and noise; the soulful “Casino Café” sounds like it was run through early Band of Horses reverb caverns; “Gold Rush” is Tortoise and Dick Dale mashed up, but played by Hendrix; and on the “Theme from a Dark Partie,” Gat alternates between dampened string arpeggios and thick chromatic chords you might have heard Wes Montgomery deliver.
The two main attractions are disc-opener “East to West” and “North to South,” placed midway through the LP like an the axis shift it suggests. Both tracks surpass five-minute run times, and feature polyglot stylistic collisions: furious surf-guitar runs and windmilling barre chords (“East to West”), or highlife runs and Middle Eastern drones (“North to South”), all delivered with a psychedelic edge.
Gat shines throughout — but not because of his technical shredding chops (Malmstein and Vai fans will be sorely disappointed, and thank goodness). Gat can — and does — clearly bring it if he has to, but what’s most exciting here is the sense of joy in every note and flurry played. Whether he’s vamping on a riff over and over as he does on “Gibraltar,” or going all No Wave screwdriver on “L’Atlantis,” the same conviction permeates each song. What really impresses, though, is how this half-hour voyage holds together logically while drifting across borders, styles, and genres. In our shrinking digitized world, maybe this is what we’ll measure great guitar playing against in the future —something conveying that sense of community music inspires across the globe.
DOWNLOAD: “East to West,” “North to South,” “Boxwood,” “Gold Rush”