On his latest album, Heaven and Earth, John Gregorius finds a meeting ground between Windham Hill fingerstyle guitar and ambient music.
Progressive rock was known for it’s synthesizer and organ orchestrations and furious electric guitar runs, but a lot of musicians were attracted to a more pastoral side of that sound heard in the acoustic guitars of Mike Oldfield in Tubular Bells and Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Anthony Phillips from Genesis. One of those musicians was John Gregorius. He’s a rock refugee who has played in a bunch of Southern California bands, but he went for a different approach on his debut, Heaven and Earth. It’s a sound that mixes ambient textures, world music touches and finger-style guitar.
No matter how elaborate his arrangements might be, the songs on Heaven and Earth begin on acoustic guitar. Gregorius cites Genesis, but you can also hear the influence of Windham Hill guitarists like Will Ackerman and Michael Hedges in his playing. He has a few purely solo tracks on the disc, like “Sackcloth to Ashes,” just to show the coordinates of ground zero. Here’s a video of a solo version of “Heaven and Earth”
If this was just another acoustic solo guitar album, it would’ve been pleasant listening, but Heaven and Earth rises above when Gregorius’s acoustic tunes are set in ambient landscapes. A song like “Mercy” is based on finger-style guitar, but the lead is taken by a country-tinged electric over a Brian Eno-style soundscape that could’ve come off his Apollo album.
John Gregorius is a musician of eclectic tastes, but with a unified vision. You can tell he’s listening to acoustic players, but also has his fingers in rock and ambient music. A track called “Secret to Light” sets plaintive acoustic guitar in an atmosphere of growling, shoegazer rock textures and rolling drums played with mallets that come straight off the launch pad of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”
Folk, country, blues and world music are incorporated into John Gregorius’ playing. On “Pearls of Great Price,” he creates a meeting of Ambient Americana and Indian music, with udu drum and a guitar lead that sits between languid country blues and Indian raga.
John Gregorius’s new album, Heaven and Earth is out on Spotted Peccary records. It’s our Echoes CD of the Month for December. It will be featured on Monday’s Echoes broadcast.
Deft acoustic guitar compositions supported by subtle electronic elements. John Gregorius delivers a set of warm, inspirational pieces that primarily feature acoustic guitar melodies carried by restful beats and beatless ambience. John’s playing skillfully moves from softly plucked themes and confidently fingered leads through strummed chords and flicked harmonics to an almost flamenco finger picking style in places. Electric guitars with various effects are employed in places to broaden the strings and vary the palette, nevertheless John chooses a consistently clean sound in keeping with his uplifting approach and thematic content. The accompaniment includes smooth electronic textures, delay loops, ebow strains and some fretless bass work. On the track Inner Room the electronic aspect of the music comes to the fore – a drifting, atmospheric arrangement of tranquil swells and crepuscular drones. The percussion tracks make use of live drums, and programmed grooves as well as some more exotic items such as udu drum and mallet drum.
John Gregorius has worked for some time as a producer, guitarist and engineer producing or playing for artists such as East West, Reel Big Fish, Bionic Jodi and many other Southern California based acts. Heaven and Earth sees this talented musician focussing his abilities onto his own music contemplating the possibility of meaning within life’s mysteries. John releases this ten track CD through O3E Music, a new division of Spotted Peccary, this label being dedicated to “a fresh vision of Classical Impressionism, Art-based Jazz, Electronic, and Post-Progressive Rock.” The pieces here are very peaceful and positive, managing to deliver pleasant, harmonious music that touches the emotions without becoming too sugary or sentimental. Whether performing solo guitar or electric lead within thicker ambience, John’s creations flow naturally combining his diverse influences seamlessly.