New West Guitar Group

New West Guitar Group

Since their earliest days as music students at the University of Southern California, the trio known as New West Guitar Group has tapped into its straightahead jazz roots to develop a sound that embraces various shades of folk, country, rock and pop. The newest chapter in the New West saga opens in October 2011 with the release of Round-Trip Ticket, an album that explores the idea of forward movement, the beauty and mystery of the natural world and the homecoming that awaits the traveler at the end of the journey.

In the years since New West’s debut, the music press has raved. Acoustic Guitar Magazine praised the range of their music “from chamber-like elegance and fragile introspection to exhilarating swing and gritty blues,” while All About Jazz called the group “…a fine showcase for the musicians, as well as a tribute to the endlessly fascinating and mutable instrument they play.” The Seattle Times has declared that “the group’s sense of time and their ability to interact are sharp and refined.”

New West Guitar Group began as a quartet – Perry Smith, John Storie, Matt Roberts and Brady Cohan, who met when they were students at the University of Southern California just as the millennium was getting under way. “We were this group of high school allstars with the electric guitar, and we had come to USC to take it to the next level,” Smith recalls. “The school had an entire department dedicated to guitar. It had a great faculty and it attracted some wonderful guitar players, so it was a special time for all of us.” The group released their debut album, Introducing New West Guitar Group, on Flora Records in 2005, while they were still students. Introducing was primarily a straightahead jazz record – more electric than acoustic – that mixed original material with standards. The followup, Wide Awake (2007, Art Song), delved more into the acoustic sound. Roberts left the lineup after Wide Awake, and the group carried on as a trio. Sleeping Lady, released on New West in 2009, was an all-acoustic affair produced by master luthier Jeff Traugott and recorded with steel-string guitars built by Traugott. The album also featured famed vocalist Gretchen Parlato. “We took a much more mellow approach with that record,” says Smith, “and focused a lot more on our own compositions and the acoustic guitars. It captured a completely different side of what the group could do.”

Over the years, New West Guitar Group has piled up numerous awards and accolades, and has enjoyed broad international exposure. Before they even left USC, they were the first group to receive the coveted Thornton Protégé Grant. During this same period, the Los Angeles Sister Cities Committee honored the group as musical ambassadors of L.A. – which in turn created the opportunity for them to perform at the 2005 World Exposition in Nagoya, Japan, and the 2007 German-American Volksfest in Berlin. They have continued to perform in major venues throughout the U.S. and Canada, Europe and Asia. In August 2009, they performed as the opening act for Diana Krall at the Britt Festival in Southern Oregon.

In the year-long hiatus between recording sessions for Round-Trip Ticket, Cohan left the group at the and of 2009 and was replaced by Jeff Stein, a recent USC graduate, at the beginning of 2010. Stein wasted no time settling into the New West groove, and even contributed a composition (“Waiting For You”) to the new record. New West Guitar Group continues to develop music that combines the different timbres of acoustic and electric guitars to a create a signature sound that embraces jazz, rock, folk or other specific genres.

“Over the years, we’ve discovered that we have an opportunity to really showcase what the guitar can do,” says Perry. “It’s a really diverse instrument. There are many types of guitars, and many ways to play it. I guess we were never really satisfied with only playing arrangements of standard tunes, and staying within the traditions of jazz. So we introduced the acoustic steel-string and nylon-string guitars. Then we started utilizing various strumming and fingerpicking techniques along with electronic and percussive effects. All of these skills showcase the versatility of the instrument and the strengths of New West.”

Given the dynamic and diverse nature of the New West music – and the philosophy of openness that inspires it – Perry steers clear of labels that might be limiting. “By design the New West sound doesn’t easily fit into any one genre,” he says. “I’m always interested in hearing forward moving and expansive music, because that often entails creating an original sound and approach. One of the people we really look up to – someone who has played with our group in the past – is Pat Metheny. You can listen to him and his band and say, ‘Is that jazz? What is that?’ Eventually, after a number of years, you stop asking and you just say, ‘Well, that’s Pat Metheny.’ That’s what it becomes. That’s approach we’ve taken with New West. We hope that people who come to our shows and buy our records hear that the only “label” our music needs is ‘New West.’”


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