"Susan A is a great player who has mastered and redefined an unlikely instrument. With an exquisite touch she invoked it's history, extended its emotional and ethereal strengths and explored its microtonal possibilities, drawing it out of the contexts that traditionally render it invisible, or generic, and into its own mature discourse, reminding improvisers that 'free' includes the right to be romantic, melodic and four to the bar."
Chris Cutler, The Wire (UK)
"From the relatively unadorned sound of pedal steel and amplifier, Susan Alcorn brings forth music that is as full of emotional honesty as it is of melodic and harmonic exploration and surprise. She possesses a virtuosic technique that is always at the service of the musical moment and its possibilities for expression and communication."
Kevin McNeil Brown, Dusted Features
"Alcorns pedal steel tones, stretch, float, and dance in the air, and on the ears, expressing something thats worlds beyond words, yet able to communicate on the deepest level."
Pete Gershon, Signal to Noise
Alcorn is a rare musician who embraces the full spectrum of expressive possibilities for an instrument to communicate a full human experience instead of a restricted aesthetic paradigm. She's a maverick and her solo recordings are destined to become classics that we turn to year after year for relief from common music.
Michael Anton Parker, Downtown Music Gallery
With clarity and precision and a gift for invoking sweeping landscapes, Alcorn is able to perform arrangements of Curtis Mayfield or Olivier Messiaen highlighting both their structural and spiritual aspects simultaneously and then attacking the strings zen-slap-loud or hovering stained-glass mobiles of sound-clouds.
Ian Nagoski, Arthur
"Alcorn charms a complex, expressive, and intimately responsive vocabulary out of her instrument, enabling her to compliment noisy, ceiling-climbing swells or barely audible quiets."
Bret McCabe, Baltimore City Paper
Employing pedal steel in an experimental-music context might sound like a gimmick, but a performance by Susan Alcorn will easily silence skeptics. Alcorns improvisations use the instruments uniquely liquid sound to gorgeously poetic effect.
Time Out New York
"Her radical deep listening & approach to the steel guitar . . . is a revelation."
Ed Baxter, London Musicians Collective
When I first heard of Susan Alcorn, my initial response was incredulousness: pedal steel guitar in an avant-garde jazz context? Impossible! But when I put on her new CD on Relative Pitch Records, I was swept away from the very first note. Consisting of four compositions by Astor Piazzolla performed solo (plus a duo improvisation with bassist Michael Formanek), Soledad is a sonic revelation.
Along with a love of South American tango, Alcorn also draws on a diverse range of musical influences, including jazz, modern classical (notably, the avian sonorities of Olivier Messiaen), the Japanese koto, South Indian ragas and East Asian gamelan. And while her technique is truly astonishing—lightning fast single-note runs, complex multi-part polyphony, and otherworldly sounds and textures—there is a meditative calm at the center of the music. This points to her work with Pauline Oliveros and the “Deep Listening” project as well as her deep respect for the instrument’s roots in the vernacular.
While the music on Soledad is as challenging and “avant-garde” as anything else on the Relative Pitch label, it is also a sublimely beautiful record: inviting and accessible yet also wildly creative and inventive. Frankly, I have never heard anything quite like it—and now I'm on the lookout for the rest of her discography. Most highly recommended!
Roger Coleman NuVoid
I’ve heard few things over the last several years that are more beautiful and lyric than her 2015 album Soledad (Relative Pitch), a sumptuous homage to Piazzolla’s music. Alcorn deftly concentrates his dramatic contrapuntal gems for the woozy, liquid sprawl of pedal steel, and the emotional pulse of the tango fights through the gorgeous glissandos, melodic curves, and sonic swells she unleashes with breathtaking concision. “Suite for Ahl” deviates a bit, with Alcorn teaming up with bassist Michael Formanek for an improvised duet that pushes the general tone into abstraction and mild turbulence without breaking the spell.
Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader
Throughout she captures Piazzolla’s trickyrhythms and his emotional and musical lability. It is the most instantly accessible album of her career.
Lee Gardner, Baltimore City Paper
Susan Alcorn was born with pounded glass instead of bones, balloons instead of lungs and soap bubbles instead of the heart. The world has always cut and still cuts it - outside and inside. It's probably because of this that Susan plays the style guitar: the metal does not give Susan finally turn into jelly, and holding the guitar across, she returns the world, usually perpendicular, to its original position. Susan's latest album "Soledad is no longer music, it's a melancholic drawing on a crystal of water." Alcorne plays the music of Astor Piazzolla, the only composer that is difficult to say - he was a man or a giant cricket.
Caspar Hauser, NeoFormat (Ukraine)
Touch This Moment
With her latest solo album, composer/improviser/pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn continues her expansive musical journey, this time manifesting a new range of tonal colors, along with an ever-deepening sense of proportion and openness, of event and silence.
To most steel players, tone and touch are the heart of sound; touch is what sets the tone in motion, influencing its energy, shape and texture, its emotional and expressive vibration. Given this, Touch This Moment is a wonderfully appropriate title for this recording. Alcorn has long been a player who inhabits each note and gesture with a powerful intimacy. Here, she seems to have reached an even deeper communion with the range of timbres and textures she can bring from the pedal steel guitar.
An organ-like hum begins to fluctuate in timbre and intensity, snowballing into a buzzing morass. Just more than a minute and a half into this anxious squall it fades to near silence, before a gentler sound begins. Its less restless and more specific, with a faint flesh-on-metal friction vibration cutting through the background before another gentle fade to silence. This rest is ruptured by a quick succession of plaintive notes, some of which are gently bent into pinched toneswhich briskly fade to an aural black that gets disturbed by a ghost of a melodic line. Through gentle volume controls, this melody blooms into a swirling sound. And through the entire run of this 6-minute-and-43-second piece of music, it starts and stops at regular intervals, picking up and varying motifs and textures, sounds and moods, until its composer/performer, pedal-steel guitarist Susan Alcorn, has delivered a stark musical homage to the abstract expressionist name checked in its title: Agnes Martin/Specchio Nero.
A non-idiomatic painter may be the best analog to Alcorns supple musical ideas. Her new, self-released Touch This Momenther fifth solo outingshowcases a performer that continues to display a virtuosic command of her instruments possibilities. Bluesy lines become Messiaen-like intensity in Gilmor Blue, while she provides her own piano-like rhythmic accompaniment to a melodic line in Hovenweep.
Whats not so much newas an improv ensemble member, Alcorn proves again and again that few ideas escape her sensitive earas different from her compositional pen is Touch's tenderness. While she does wander down a few of themurky paths she trod on 2007's And I Await the Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar, Alcorn offers a much broader palette here, as capable of something pretty (Postlude) as something pastoral (Hovenweep). And with the 23-minute lead-off Little Bird, We Can Fly, Alcorn delivers something bordering the euphoric, moving from the intimate to the sweeping with the scope and ambition of a symphonic workall powered by an orchestra of one.
Bret McCabe Baltimore City Paper
And I Await The Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar
"This LP-only release is Susan Alcorn's deepest, most adventurous --and sometimes darkest-- work to date. Beginning with a steel guitar reading of the Buddhist "Heart Sutra" that sends out sonic ripples like stones dropped into the void, it moves on to conjure moods and possibilities way beyond what most music even attempts. Among the stunning pieces here is a two-part tone-poem dedicated to the visionary big-band arranger Bob Graettinger that, while utterly engaging in and of itself, manages also to find a transformative place where Stan Kenton's elegant cool and Sun Ra's dangerous "Magic City" might intersect. As usual, Alcorn sings with the voice of the pedal steel, conveying a bold and resonant vision of spirit and compassion."
The album title is a homage to Olivier Messiaen's Et Expecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum, which pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn first heard while driving to a Country & Western gig in her home town Houston, Texas. The impact of the experience was such she had to pull off the road, which is just as well - hard to imagine persuading a Texas traffic cop to waive charges of dangerous driving by trying to pin the blame on the nefarious influence of late 20th century European contemporary music, isn't it? Of course, there's no way a humble pedal steel guitar can hope to compete with the crashing apocalyptic ending of the Frenchman's piece, but harmonically and timbrally the title track does indeed manage to evoke something of the foreboding of the original. Even the opening "Heart Sutra", with its delicate play on upper harmonics of a single repeated pitch, is a sober affair. Susan Alcorn might be best known to improv fans for her guest appearances in some of Eugene Chadbourne's Country-inspired projects, but we're some considerable way away from the good Doctor's high jinx here; as Alcorn's declared mission is to extricate the mighty instrument from the C&W universe with which it's invariably associated (a bit like Jozef van Wissem has done for the lute and Matthew Welch has for bagpipes, I guess), you can bet your bottom dollar there ain't no country licks on offer. Instead, a remarkably sensitive investigation of microtonal inflections and timbre easily on a par with vintage Loren Connors or the more introspective solo offerings of Tetuzi Akiyama . . . A real treasure, go dig it up.
Dan Warburton Paris Transatlantic
FWIW, the album I chose as number 1 for Wire was Susan Alcorn's And I Await The Resurrection Of The Pedal Steel Guitar on Olde English Spelling Bee.
Dan Warburton Bagatellan
On her solo effort, Curandera, Alcorn makes the unorthodox seem conventional.. Of Alcorns own compositions here, the music is inspired by a range of interests: Chilean natives, visual art, Southern literature, and metaphysics. The accompanying tracks are interpretations of songs by no less varied a group than Messiaen, Curtis Mayfield and Tammy Wynette. Across the album, Alcorns playing shows virtuoso discipline and craftsmanship. Her dexterity in picking calls to mind Joe Morris and Derek Bailey, while frequently settling into the loose, sustained cries and decayed whines characteristic of the instrument. For most of the album, only the lightest touch of reverb is used to enhance the pedal steels tone. The music is otherwise unadulterated, benefitting primarily from Alcorns rich, deep sustains, in keeping with the records theme: a perpetual longing for things unreachable. On Broken Obelisk composed out of necessity after Alcorn attended a peace vigil at the Rothko Chapel, she explores the central octaves of the guitar in a slow, contemplative tempo; dissonance is married with conventional slides to bring a unity between the instruments naturally opposing attributes. The tunes disinterested resolution reminds that dilemmas are often conceded and then forgotten, here taking form in the long decay of a single tone. Alcorns record seems borne from personal philosophies, those which are important enough to share, but might lose weight in their expansion. A really beautiful recording.
Pedal steel guitar player Susan Alcorn describes the title track of Curandera as a song based on the music of the Mapuche people of Chile. This beautiful solo CD also includes versions of Curtis Mayfields People Get Ready , Tammy Wynettes hit You and Me, and Oliver Messian s choral work O Sacrum Convivium. As that list indicates, Alcorn sings atop the glistening metallic glide and swell of her instrument. As it also suggests, she places no boundaries around the pedal steels expressive potential. Her musical awareness is broad and refined, extending from the heart of Country and Western Swing through the language of the high modernist avant garde to the communicative urgency of free jazz. The less vocal aspects of her improvising often recall Fred Friths tabletop guitar soundings - harmonically expansive, tinged with ghostly overtones or vividly metallic. In more vocal moments, especially on Curandera , you could be listening to Meredith Monk or Joan La Barbara, not just in terms of tone and timbre but in the pacing and the breath that seems to flow so naturally through Alcorns playing. Pedal steel guitar can sound glacial, in Alcorns hands its got soul.
Julian Cowley, The Wire
"Pedal steel guitar. It's one of the great miracles of human ingenuity--rich, sustained tones that cut through the air and breathe with complete microtonal freedom! A perfect candidate for creative, experimental music, but how many albums have you heard where someone actually takes this boggling potential and puts it into reality? Wouldn't it be nice if some virtuoso of the instrument steeped in its traditions and inspired equally by avant-garde music would develop a personal aesthetic welcoming both sublime melody and edgy abstraction, create a body of solo work and openly explore experimental improvisation with others? Heck, if there was a musician like that they'd be famous and we'd all soak up every last recording we could get our hands on! Her name is Susan Alcorn. She lives in Texas. She's been working on her steel guitar music for thirty years. The recordings are here. They are treasures. Curandera is her follow-up to her widely praised solo debut Uma and pursues a similar synthesis of heart-aching traditional beauty and sound adventures. Rather than the typical avant-garde path of rejecting melody and focusing on harsh, difficult new sound vocabularies, Alcorn has dug so deep inside her melodies that she's opened up a new space of details in individual note shapes, creating decays that don't decay or suddenly become attacks instead, and patiently revealing subtle shifts in overtones. Alcorn's music is a hall of mirrors flooded with liquid gold shimmering off her horizontal fretboard. Each composition on Curandera tells its own story, and three of them radically re-tell someone else's story. Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" is transformed into a sweet meditation that strips away any distractions from the sublime core melody. Oliver Messiaen's choral work "Sacrum Convivium" is rendered with stunning precision as a simultaneous celebration of Messiaen's harmonies and the special timbres of pedal steel guitar. Tammy Wynette's "You and Me" becomes a melodic labyrinth with gorgeous hints of the twangy music that serves Alcorn as both deep roots and an entrenched aesthetic identity for pedal steel guitar that she typically seeks radical divergences from. Possibly my favorite, Alcorn's title composition is a sparse, brooding sequence of microtonal nosedives based on the Mapuche music of Chile and inspired by the struggles of this indigenous culture to retain their autonomy. Alcorn composed "Twin Beams" for a 2002 project with Chris Cutler in Leipzig, based on a poem Cutler wrote in response to 9/11; the music invokes the full range of emotions appropriate to the topic, from madness to serenity, with judicious use of violent, jarring steel guitar gestures that might not be suitable for new age audiences. "Broken Obelisk" is another piece where she balances abstract extended techniques with contemplative prettiness. Quite generally, Alcorn is a rare musician who embraces the full spectrum of expressive possibilities for an instrument to communicate a full human experience instead of a restricted aesthetic paradigm. She's a maverick and her solo recordings are destined to become classics that we turn to year after year for relief from common music."
Michael Anton Parker, Downtown Music Gallery
"Uma" (Loveletter 010) Solo pedal steel guitar with a bit of trombone provided by David Dove. Susan Alcorn is a marvelous pedal steel player from Texas that Eugene Chadbourne has worked with and has been raving about for a while now. Susan and her band back Eugene on his forthcoming Boxholder release and it is just incredible! "Uma" is mainly a solo pedal steel effort which is sublime, moody, lovely, melancholy and often haunting. Susan wrote most of the tunes, but also does a Thelonius Monk medley and ends with a transcendent version of "Amazing Grace" (yo Raymon!)
Bruce Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
"Alcorn's playing and technique here and elsewhere is amongst the best I've ever heard, but more importantly this is instrumental music that you can actually feel moving in a never-ending loop between your mind and your heart."
"East meets country and western, and a whole lot more, on this Houston pedal-steel guitarist's debut solo album. As a member of Eugene Chadbourne's Ernest Tubb Memorial Band, Alcorn plays little that's recognizable as country or alt-country. The eight improvisational instrumentals on Uma pursue that exploratory spirit without sounding much like Chadbourne either. Instead, Alcorn draws on droning Indian ragas for "Uma's River Song of Love" and "The Royal Road/ Shambhala." "Dancing" skips along on a series of hypnotic, repetitive phrases, and the funereal "Kalimankou Denkou/ Thrace" progresses through sweet sitarlike whines, lilting passages, and harplike phrasing. "Monk Medley" opens bluesy ("Crepuscle for Nellie"), turns hard-bop ("Pannonica"), and soars out ("Groovin' High") before the album closes with a tantalizing snatch of "Amazing Grace." Alcorn doesn't ignore the melancholy mood that her instrument brings to country but applies elements of world music, jazz, avant-classical, and New Age to create sounds that defy classification."