Minor 7th Jan/Feb 2009: Gilfema, Tuck & Patti, Erik Mongrain, Anne McCue, John Shannon, Dan Arcamone, Thibault Cauvin, Monte Montgomery, Minneapolis Guitar Quartet
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Reviewing the best in non-mainstream acoustic guitar music

January/February, 2009

Gilfema, "Gilfema + 2," ObliqSound, 2008

"Gilfema + 2" is the second collaboration of West African guitarist Lionel Loueke, Swedish-Italian bassist Massimo Biolcati, and Hungarian percussionist Ferenc Nemeth. There is tremendous growth and maturity on this recording, more than fulfilling the promises left by their critically acclaimed first offering. All three exceptional musicians met during a late night jam session at the Berklee School of Music and continued their studies at the prestigious Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. This soon led to Loueke's current post as Herbie Hancock's guitarist, ultimately earning him a Grammy for the pianist's critically acclaimed "River" album. Both Biolcati and Nemeth also began to work with some of the biggest names in contemporary jazz as well as releasing their own noteworthy recordings. The strength of "Gilfema + 2" lies in the ability of all three musicians to effortlessly assimilate World music with American and European jazz. Also, joining this formidable multi-cultural power trio are Anat Cohen on clarinet and John Ellis on Bass clarinet and ocarina. The two are true rising stars in the field of jazz and add interesting colors and textures to the music. At times their contributions are reminiscent to Paul McCandless's incendiary work for the seminal improvisational group Oregon. While not all of the pieces are acoustic, all feature Loueke intricate and sophisticated soloing. At times Loueke's Godin nylon string classical is processed with a myriad of colorful effects; however, he never sounds synthetic or clichéd. Instead he uses the technology, along with his unique polyrhythmic finger style technique, to emulate the instruments of his native homeland. Most of his soloing also features the unison vocal style made popular by George Benson. Yet, Loueke's approach pays homage more to his West African roots rather than his American hero. "One's Mind's Eye" is a slow, deliberate ballad with unadorned acoustic and nice delicate interplay between the musicians. "Salome" begins with a retro sounding 70's wah pedal followed by Loueke's blistering chromatic flurries. The moody "Morning Dew" features some nice delicate weaving on acoustic, set against a subtle, blues shaded landscape. As sophisticated and unique as Loueke's soloing is, it never gets in the way of the inherent beauty of each composition. Together, all five musicians redefine the parameters of world and jazz music, creating a thoroughly accessible and beautiful collection of sonic tapestries, and is required listening for all owners of a compact disc player.
© James Scott

Gilfema's MySpace Buy it at Amazon.com or iTunes
Listen to "Cove" (mp3)

Tuck & Patti, "I Remember You," T & P Records, 2008

Guitarist Tuck Andress and vocalist/arranger Patti Cathcart have recorded together since the early 1980s and have a devoted fan base. The bulk of their performances are vocal/guitar duos, and they've achieved a level of empathy for each other's efforts that many musicians dream of, but seldom realize. This CD is comprised of standards from the Great American Songbook, including evergreens from Johnny Mercer (the title track), Duke Ellington ("In a Sentimental Mood"), George and Ira Gershwin ("A Foggy Day," "Embraceable You"), and six others. Tuck Andress contributes one solo piece, "It Might as Well be Spring." Their interpretations are lovingly rendered, flawless, subtly inventive, and free of clichés. Tuck frequently plays a walking bass line with melody on top, while stabbing at hornlike chord fragments in the middle to treble registers. He plays an amplified archtop and often boosts bass and treble simultaneously, creating a sound that's very bright with plenty of bottom. Patti's singing is honey-smooth. If there is any downside at all, it's in Tuck's occasional overuse of volume swells, most likely from a pedal. They present the program of tunes as a tribute to the 1970s collaborations of Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass on Pablo Records, although I'm enjoying the present CD on its own terms. Ella had few, if any, limitations as a jazz singer and Joe Pass… well, Pass was a master of more things musical than there's space to cover here. So, let's simply celebrate the small miracle that these wonderful songs are kept alive by artists such as Tuck & Patti. My favorites include "When I Fall in Love," "It Might as Well be Spring" and "Embraceable You."
© Patrick Ragains

Tuck & Patti's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Deed I Do" (mp3)

Erik Mongrain, "Equilibrium," Alter Ego Musique, 2008

Erik Mongrain is a bit of a freak, combining powerful fingerstyle technique with sensitivity while doing two handed tapping he calls "air-tap" to produce aural supernovas. On "Equilibrium," his second CD, Mongrain is often accompanied by Michael Manring on fretless bass, adding his signature tone and complex rhythm. There are few sounds Mongrain does not get out of his guitar, just six strings and wood under his fluid and sometimes frenetic hands. Sometimes held like a normal guitar, sometimes in the lap like a like a child who can't hold it yet, Mongrain's music is no secret to the thousands of viewers he has reached via YouTube. The opening cut, the solo "A Ripple Effect" is just that -- beginning with a tapped rhythm, Mongrain introduces layers of single note runs, harmonics, bends, and percussive elements to create a cohesive cacophony exploding from his guitar, at times with lightning speed, yet never only for speed's sake. Tapped harmonics and percussive beats begin "Alone in the Mist," accented by Manring's plaintive bass notes; the interplay between the two musicians is marvelous. The title cut, "Equilibrium," goes in one direction, then cuts back across the grain to reveal other textures of the melody as Mongrain taps and strums and thwacks a beat enveloping the listener with its simple complexity. Mongrain uses seven different tunings on the nine songs on the CD, allowing the varied tonal palettes to add to his tunes. Mongrain exhibits the best qualities of players like Don Ross and Andy McKee -- powerful rhythms driving his songs with harmonic complexity and a panoply of sounds and technique which -- instead of distracting the listener -- add depth to his compositions and create an enjoyable, truly musical experience. You really should give Erik Mongrain a listen.
© Kirk Albrecht

Erik Mongrain's Website Buy it at Amazon.com or iTunes
Listen to "A Ripple Effect" (mp3)
Watch Erik Mongrain's "Air Tap" video at YouTube

Various Artists, "My Favorite Martin," Solid Air Records 2008

This anthology features 15 guitarists playing a variety of acoustic Martin instruments, including their own signature models, vintage guitars and ukuleles. The CD begins with Laurence Juber's solo rendition of "Layla," which has lately become one of his most popular arrangements. Other Solid Air artists contributing are Jim Earp, Kenny Sultan, Pat Donohue and Greg Hawkes (who plays Lennon and McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby" multitracked, on tenor, baritone and soprano ukuleles). The project's association with C.F. Martin and Co. brought in several other well-known musicians, including Martin Carthy, Steve Howe, Peter Rowan, Norman and Nancy Blake, Steve Miller, Nancy Wilson, Elliot Easton, Roger McGuinn, Tony Rice and Don McLean. Martin Carthy's typical arranging style and stark tone are well-represented by his medley, "The Vandals of Hammerwich / John Peterson's Mare." The Blakes turn in a fine version of "The Old Grey Mare Came Tearing Out of the Wilderness." Peter Rowan offers an original fingerstyle instrumental titled "After the Rain." Roger McGuinn revisits Pete Seeger's "Singing in the Country" on his signature 7-string (which has a high G, paired with the normal third string). Seeger's protégé Don Mclean plays his original, "Lovers Love the Spring," the only vocal on the disc. Pop and rock guitarists Nancy Wilson, Elliot Easton, Steve Howe and Steve Miller add enjoyable, sometimes quirky pieces. Favorites include Wilson's multitracked "Decatur Road" and Tony Rice's soulful version of "Danny Boy," played on Clarence White's legendary 1935 D-28.
© Patrick Ragains

AMR's Website Buy it at Acoustic Music Resource or Amazon.com
Listen to "Mountain Air" (Pat Donohue), (mp3)

Anne McCue, "East of Electric," 2008

She's like an acoustic version of Lucinda Williams, a little alt-country but mostly folk, armed with a cynical outlook and a voice that's seen a few rough places. She wrote or co-wrote all the songs and not only that, played almost all the instruments including guitar, mandolin, banjo and keyboards in beautifully sparse arrangements. McCue isn't a story teller in the traditional sense, with long ballads telling a complicated story, but rather, paints a brief picture using just enough color to convey the emotion. It's a mixed metaphor but one that suits her. "Money in the Morning" is a lovely layering of acoustic instruments including banjo and mandolin. There's a finger-picked guitar in the melancholy ballad "Beautiful Thing;" she doesn't mince words: "The pale blue moon, it reminds you of lust / So you crawl through the rooms / Where love was won and lost." "Say Bye Bye," sounds like something that could be from a scratchy 78. There might be a ukulele on it but I don't see one credited. Maybe it's an acoustic guitar put through a bit of magic in the studio. An innocent xylophone shimmers in the center. One of my favorite cuts is an instrumental, "Psychadelica II," featuring a sitar-like sound from what is probably a guitar in an open tuning. The simple percussion gives it a dark Middle Eastern feel. The title cut is last, a short piece woven with regret and colored with cello and harmonies.
© Jamie Anderson

Anne McCue's Website Buy it at Amazon.com or iTunes
Listen to "Money in the Morning" (mp3)

John Shannon, "American Mystic," ObliqSound 2008

John Shannon's solo debut album, "American Mysic," reveals a singer/songwriter on a journey of self-discovery. Shannon describes it as song journeying, "embarking on an inner experience with the music as my guide." While the 10-track collection could be described as minimalist folk, with its main elements being Shannon's whispery voice and his hypnotic, harplike acoustic guitar, the end result is much more. Shannon, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music, creates a thought-provoking collection of songs that tumble over and into one another like a series of waterfalls. One track recycles into another, and all seem to exist simultaneously as part of the larger whole. His song titles clue the listener into his musical vision: "Falling Into All," "Under The Stars," "Among the Sea, Among the Star." Shannon's experience with nature lies at the forefront of this work, as evidenced by "Golden Eagle," "Butterfly" and "Lion's Mane." It's as if he's holding a stethoscope to the ground, channeling what he hears through eons of nature's voices, running it all through his heart, and then out through his fingers. The sum of the parts ultimately ends up being hypnotic, timeless, mesmerizing, mystical. This is soul music in the purest sense of the word.
© Fred Kraus

John Shannon's Website Buy it at Amazon.com or iTunes
Listen to "Forgiveness" (mp3)
Listen to John Shannon at our podcast
Watch John Shannon's "Somewhere" video at YouTube

Dan Arcamone, "Trioisms," 2008

There have been some exceptional trios fronted by jazz guitarists which have eluded the radar of even diehard jazz fans -- Bill Connors' fusion trio on Pathfinder Records in the 1980s, Pat Metheny's trio of 1999/2000 and more recently, Tim Miller (see Minor 7th's review of Tim Miller's "Trio"). The trio format may be rare because it requires a truly inventive and virtuosic guitarist to successfully transform the energy of just three individuals into something much larger... all while grabbing the public's notoriously brief attention. Dan Arcamone is such a guitarist, and who on his debut CD "Trioisms" enlists Rich Zurkowski on bass and Tom Ash on drums to create a wonderful independent release which, in a perfect world, would be worthy of major label interest. Arcamone achieves a warm tone between that of acoustic and electric by miking his PRS hollowbody, and in the process pays sonic homage to Pat Martino and Pat Metheny, two influences from whom he's borrowed this distinctive timbre. It's difficult to categorize Arcamone's music into subgenres, but some tracks ("Reptomin," "Tracings," "(Re)kindled," "So Long and Goodnight") might be most easily labeled fusion, others ("Wish You Were Here," "Bambolina," "Jane Doe," "Smile") simply modern jazz in the tradition of Metheny, Mike Stern or Kurt Rosenwinkel. "Trioisms" is a tour-de-force in jazz guitar composition and performance, and will hopefully provide a springboard for Dan Arcamone into a deserved musical future that will defy the fate of a handful of artists that went before, and who bet everything on a trio.
© Alan Fark

Dan Arcamone's Website Buy it at Amazon.com or iTunes
Listen to "Bambolina"
Listen to Dan Arcamone at our podcast

Thibault Cauvin, "No. 4," GSP Recordings, 2008

Classical guitarist Thibault Cauvin's current release, "No. 4," features a provocative collection of modern music impeccably performed with astonishing finesse. A true child prodigy, Cauvin was born in Bordeaux, France and soon began studying the guitar at the age of six. By twenty he had won thirteen first prizes in various international competitions. Although still in his twenties, he has performed at more than 400 concerts worldwide and has made numerous intercontinental television appearances. The music on this disc consists of five eclectic compositions written by accomplished guitarist/composers, all of which have had a profound influence on Cauvin. While at times the music can be challenging, there is never a moment where the listener is not rewarded with the guitarist's endless virtuosity. On the opening "Allegro assai" and "Vivo" Cauvin displays his astonishing pyrotechnical talents offering both elaborate percussive finger effects and fiery single string excursions. "Clown Down," is inspired by the Brazilian musician Egberto Gismonte showcasing a staccato bass line and intricate rhythmic patterns. On the pensive "Adagio espressivo" and "Light Motif" the guitarist delicately performs each ballad with grace and elegance. Perhaps the most noteworthy standouts, on a recording that has many, come from the two compositions written by the guitarist's father, Philippe Cauvin. "Voyage au bord de l'infini" contains melodic, lyrical, harmonies in the first theme. While the second part offers dramatic arpeggios and cadenzas played with fire and passion. The album ends with the playful "Rocktypicovin" featuring intricate harmonics and percussive nuances showcasing Cauvin's phenomenal command of his instrument. "No 4" is a triumphant release, by a young guitarist that is sure to dazzle audiences for decades to come, and should be essential listening for all fans of both Classical and modern music. In addition, this recording is highly recommended for any aficionado of contemporary acoustic guitar looking to broaden their musical horizons.
© James Scott

Thibault Cauvin's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Allegro Grazioso" (mp3)

Monte Montgomery, Eminent Records, 2008

The only flaw with Monte Mongomery's seventh release is its title. With all the raw energy, adrenalized creativity, and unadulterated, post-adolescent aggression on this record you'd have thunk he could have come up with something more apt. Several alternatives come to mind: Godzilla Guitar, Return of Godzilla, Acoustic Apocalypse, Fretfreakery. You get the idea. Montgomery, like Godzilla, is a force to be reckoned with. Ignore him at your own peril. Channeling the spirits of Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and all the sung and unsung guitar heroes of the Austin, Texas music scene, Montgomery rips and roars his way through twelve tracks of rocking, Motowny, at times even pop-tinged, crisply produced tracks, including an inspired ten-minute version of Hendrix's oft covered "Little Wing," which he does with -- dare I say? -- originality. And all of this is played on acoustic guitar, leaving one to wonder why anyone bothers with electric guitars in the first place. And let's not forget the crack outfit supporting Montgomery: David Piggot on bass and Phil Bass on drums. And to give you an idea of the company he keeps, Montgomery and band are joined by the inimitable Reese Wynans on organ for the sultry "Moonlight Tango" and the jazzy "Could've Loved You Forever." Montgomery's vocals are as soulful as his guitar playing. He's a real singer, not just a hot guitarist who sings because he's got to. From the vocal dips and bends of the album's swampy but contemporary opener, "River," to the nostalgic "Loves Last Holiday," Montgomery's vocals match the intensity and drive of his soon-to-be legendary fretwork. Guys like Montgomery only come along once a generation or so. If you're not already a convert, take a trip to the church of Montgomery. You won't be disappointed.
© Chip O'Brien

Monte Montgomery's Website Buy it at Amazon.com or iTunes
Listen to "Company You Keep" (mp3)

Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, "Dances of Spain and Argentina," 2008

Founded in 1986, the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet has a long tradition of championing the classical guitar throughout the United States and the rest of the world. Individually, each member of foursome has enjoyed illustrious careers either performing, composing, or competing. As an ensemble, they bring together their unique talents to form a quartet that is both unabashedly dramatic and learnedly refined. The disc presents a varied collection of unique arrangements rarely, if ever, heard on four guitars. The majority of these arrangements were masterfully prepared by one of the four performers, Joseph Hagedorn. These compositions, by Ginastera, J.S. Bach, and Granados, each pose astounding musical and technical challenges. Despite that, throughout these works there is an unending sense of trust and confidence that can be sensed between the guitarists, which firmly ties the ensemble together. Also featured prominently on the disc are two evocative compositions entitled "Minnesota Winter" and "Chicago Summer." Both composed by MGQ member Jeff Lambert, they further demonstrate the varied skills of these musicians. I had the unexpected pleasure of discovering the care and detail that went into the article written in the accompanying booklet. Referencing a variety of sources, including composers, critics, and musicologists, the prose are both accessible and informative. The recording closes with Peter Maxwell Davies' reflective work "Farewell to Stromness;" understated both melodically and rhythmically, it is a powerfully moving work, and acts to simultaneously ease the listener towards the end of the disc, and to touch them with its profound imagery.
© Timothy Smith

Minneapolis Guitar Quartet's Website Buy it here
Listen to "Danza del Gaucho Matrero" (mp3)

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