The father-and-son duo of Terry and Gyan Riley might be playing Christ Church Cathedral on Tuesday, but that’s no reason to give the two musicians a hushed and reverent reception.
“We just played a show here in my hometown a couple of nights ago,” the New York City–based Gyan tells the Straight in a telephone interview from his parents’ home in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada. “It was a small room; you could cram a couple of hundred people in there, maximum. But it was kind of a great local-yokel crowd of strong personalities. Everybody would, like, holler or laugh or shout when they enjoyed something, and that energy was fantastic.”
Informed that there’s rarely any shouting at Christ Church, the guitarist and composer, whose solo CD Sprig was nominated for a 2019 Grammy Award, sounds almost regretful. “If there was,” he says with a soft laugh, “it would probably sound great, with lots of natural reverb.”
If the Rileys seem up for anything, that’s probably true. Recent video footage reveals that the two performers share a freewheeling approach to musicmaking, with their concerts touching on everything from loosely psychedelic modal jams to swirling electronic scores to heartfelt vocal ragas. The older Riley sings, plays synthesizers and melodica, and displays his early jazz influences on piano; Gyan mostly plays electric guitar through a variety of electronic effects, but will usually include one of his solo compositions for classical guitar.
One thing you won’t hear at their Vancouver appearance, however, is rigid adherence to the concept of minimalism—the musical style that the older Riley, along with his peers Philip Glass and Steve Reich, is generally credited with inventing during the 1960s.
“He hates the word minimalism—or any ism, ’cause it can kind of distract from the overwhelming possibilities of whatever the actual music is,” Gyan reveals. “I guess when most people think of minimalism they think of repeated patterns, but that’s like a very dumbed-down version of it. Maybe over the years that’s what it’s been distilled into, in terms of how most composers treat it or what most composers have drawn from that body of work, but I don’t think my dad ever looked at it like that at all.
“For him, probably minimalism would have a lot to do with his study of raga,” he continues. “You can think of just, like, holding a drone: that’s a very minimalist concept, right? But the possibilities therein are not minimalist at all.”
Indeed, Gyan stresses, the music that he and his dad like to make blurs genre as well as generational boundaries. “It’s something that some people have a hard time with, because they don’t know what to call it,” he says. “They don’t know with what prior experience they should analyze what they’re hearing. And I think the answer is to not analyze it, but to just kind of bathe in it, and react to it however you will.”
Music on Main presents Terry and Gyan Riley at Christ Church Cathedral on Tuesday (February 18).