Michael Hedges is perhaps best known for his imposing, innovative technique on solo acoustic guitar, and his technique was more exact and commanding than ever last night at Blues Alley. Technique seemed secondary, though, to the optimistic melodiousness of "Rickover's Dream" or to the dramatic tension of "Aerial Boundaries."

Hedges' next record will be a vocal album, and he previewed a couple of tunes that resembled Joni Mitchell's jazz experiments more than anything else. Though his lyrics are still much weaker than his music, his singing has improved dramatically and bassist Michael Manring filled out Hedges' arrangements, which were every bit as ambitious as his instrumentals.

Liz Story opened the show with a solo piano set that floated between jazz and art music -- applying the phrasing of the former to the compositional structure of the latter. Though rhythmically slack, her rising and falling figures in both hands often created striking melodies; her heavy pedaling created somber, reflective atmospherics that were effective if unrelieved. "Rope Trick," from her second album (to be released in April), stood out because it boasted the rhythmic momentum her other pieces lacked.

Hedges and Manring perform at Baltimore's Notre Dame College tomorrow night.