By Jane Vick
Guitarist Walter Strauss has released his third solo album.
For Melody, wherever she can find me is the result of an exploration of melodies, both original and covers. During the pandemic, Strauss, an often touring musician and collaborator, found himself alone with time and his guitar.
Without an audience to play or with players to play with, Strauss found himself taking more time with the music, exploring the clean line of melody. Playing his guitar solo resulted in a different and more focused focus on the melody above all else.
In his own words: “Isolation offered a special window to engage the transcendent power of great melodies. I followed where they led.
For the melody is a beautiful homage to Strauss’ solitude, his devotional attention to the ways of music and his mastery of the instrument. Seasoned guitar enthusiasts and new listeners alike will find inspiration and tranquility in these tunes.
Although now a Sevastopol resident, Strauss grew up in Pennsylvania, the youngest of four children in a creative family with European heritage on his mother’s side. Strauss describes his mother as extremely creative and a gifted landscape designer. Creativity of all kinds was encouraged in her home. He started playing drums at the age of eight and at ten took up the guitar.
Strauss went to Hampshire College to write, but during his studies he came across a collection of field recordings of West African music which greatly inspired him, not least because of their polyrhythmic quality. Strauss refers to it as “a feast of rhythm and melody”.
He discovers the kora, a 22-string calabash harp from West Africa. Strauss has been engaged with the instrument ever since, translating many kora melodies onto the guitar.
The musician’s appreciation for African music and instruments has resulted in myriad collaborations with Malian musicians, including Grammy Award-winning kora player Mamadou Diabaté. The two met in Ithaca, NY by chance in the 1990s and went on to tour several times internationally.
In 2012, Strauss’ ability to translate the multi-tonal sound of the kora to guitar earned him an invitation to Mali from famed kora player Toumani Diabaté to further his knowledge of the instrument. Strauss spent several months in Mali and recorded a record with Diabaté’s son, Sidiki, a talented 20-year-old kora player.
Strauss has an ongoing collaboration with West African artist Mamadou Sidibe. Together they are known as the Fula Brothers, with Strauss on guitar and Sidibe playing the six-string donso ngoni, another African instrument.
Strauss says that while the influence of West African instruments and musicians on his playing has been significant, he does not attempt to recreate or imitate their sound. Yet Strauss has earned the respect of expert kora and kamale ngoni players due to his continuous efforts to understand the music and culture it represents.
“I’ve basically blended some of the beautiful and inspiring musical trends from those traditions into the pot of my own creative drive and musical history, in ways that I hope are unique and new,” Strauss said.
All this to say that Strauss’ music is generally collaborative and hard-hitting. For the melody offers another, more thoughtful face of his music.
His unique West African-inspired guitar playing was given full expression on an all-solo album. Much like the kora or kamale ngoni, Strauss plays his guitar like a harp, stretching out his hands to play a note on each string.
The album, recorded at Soundwell Studios by Strauss and Rich DePaulo, is available for purchase at bandcamp.com. Dave Hall of Lone Cricket Productions filmed creative videos on several tracks on the album, which can be found at www.walterstrauss.com.