Markus Reuter’s new album, Truce, released in 2020 for the praiseworthy MoonJune Records, has stimulated some reflections on the role of the virtuoso in the field of popular music and on the musical structure adopted by those who continue to renew and innervate that branch of rock music, known as “Progressive”.
There is no doubt that Reuter and his associates Fabio Trentini on bass and Adaf Sirkis on drums are virtuous. In their virtuosity, which will be defined by many as an end in itself, there is the key to ‘read’ some musical genres. This is not clear to everyone. I reflected some time ago on the role of the virtuoso listening to the magnificent series of records played by Joe Pass with the proper name of “Virtuoso”. Who is the virtuoso? I tried to ask Frank Zappa and his answer was: “I am not a virtuoso guitar player. A virtuoso can play anything and I can’t.”1
Therefore. The Virtuoso is first and foremost a first-class professional. Second, the Virtuoso is able to play anything with the same highest level of quality. Third being a Virtuoso is not just a matter of simple technical ability: the Virtuoso is neither an acrobat, nor a tightrope walker, nor an athlete. Fourth, Virtuosity is an aesthetic quality that also applies to research on sound. Fifth: to play certain music it is necessary to be Virtuous, whether the music is composed or not, whether it is improvised or not. Virtuoso is as much an aesthetic concept as a professional matter, as a form of musical specialization.
Reuter, Trentini and Sirkis (I always notice with increasing pleasure how the form of the trio is imposing itself as a classic form within this new Progressive of which Allan Holdsworth, together with Robert Fripp, was one of the founding fathers). They are virtuos clearly at ease with the music expressed by this “Truce”. Technical skill, improvisational ability, quick intuition, interplay ability. Professionals at the service of complex, dense music, which needs a precise musical approach. “Truce” is a complex album. Free structures characterized by chromatic ambient textures at the base, on which to overlap polyrhythmic carpets solidly anchored to a fretless electric bass capable of maintaining a flexible tempo and expressing an iridescent musical color. A sort of changeable counterpoint basis on which Reuter can express himself to the fullest, integrating himself into the counterpoint or overexposing his guitar escapes, the more extensive and creative, the greater the integrated skill of the rhythm section. From this point of view Reuter has perfectly understood the lesson of Zappa, Holdsworth and Fripp: a soloist who chooses to work with this strange style ends up becoming a hostage of himself and can only enter the experimental areas as long as his rhythm section will allow it.
MoonJume Records with “Truce” has created a perfect instruction manual on the genre. Years ago there was the habit of including records in the material that every musician had to learn to assimilate the bases of a genre, I believe that “Truce” can become in all respects an album to be studied by every guitarist, bassist and drummer who want to learn both the basics of current progressive and the structure of the power trio, and a record to be inserted in the discoteque for every fan of popular music. Those who come from a punk attitude won’t like it, but nobody is perfect.
1Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso, The Real Frank Zappa Book, Picador, 1989, pag. 179