Alone and live, guitar wizard David Torn’s far-reaching sonic colors recall Pink Floyd and beyond

David Torn live 1

The intimate confines of The Jazz Estate seemed to expand with each imaginative foray of guitar explorer-whizard David Torn.  Photo by Ann Peterson

David Torn expanded the compressed space of The Jazz Estate in Milwaukee Wednesday, by enlarging the listener’s aural experience.

But he’s no mere studio effects geek. It was like hearing one guy do Pink Floyd live. What did it sound like? Imagine a lone guitarist balancing the dark side of the moon on his nose while walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls and other natural (and unnatural) wonders he seemed to enter.

His long white mane aglow, Torn seemed a spaceship commander, fiddling with knobs on the amp control set up at his right hand and stepping on several effects pedals almost as often as he executed sometimes outrageously adumbrated chords or oddly beguiling melodies.

The concentric reverberations from multi-source loop effects or tremolo whammy bar distortions ebbed and flowed as the sorts of stratospheric aural washes he’s adorned many movie soundtracks with.

Yet like a reassuring pilot, Torn was calm, droll and unpretentious onstage, considering how arty as his concoctions he can sometimes get. At times he seemed a tad lost in it all, and he admitted that sometimes an aspect of his system breaks down and does whatever will happen. Good thing we weren’t really at 30,000 feet! Or were we?

He informed us that one piece was a “blues” and another “the country tune” — reassuring some, mystifying others. To bring the spaceship analogy slightly back to earth, the total experience seemed often like sonic painting and especially voluminous sculpture, to the ears of this listener, once an undergrad art sculpture major.

Thanks to Matt Turner of The Jazz Estate, and Devin Drobka and Unrehearsed MKE for the event, Torn’s first ever Wisconsin visit.

After a Thursday date in Chicago, Torn plays May 31 at Club Cafe in Pittsburgh, and at Cat’s Cradle Back Room on June 6 in Carrboro, NC, as his first American tour in 20 years continues, in support of his new CD only sky on ECM Records.

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