Minor 7th March/April 2004: Martin Taylor, Steve Howe, David Cullen, Willy Porter, Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, Roland Dyens, Corey Harris, Marcos Amorim, Doug B. Smith, Ken Hatfield, Buddy Guy
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Reviewing the best in non-mainstream acoustic guitar music

March/April, 2004

Martin Taylor & Steve Howe, "Masterpiece Guitars", P3 Music P3M006, 2003

Recorded in 1996 but released only last year, this CD is the culmination of the late vintage guitar collector Scott Chinery's desire to have many of his guitars recorded in a single project. Steve Howe, who gained notoriety in the art-rock group Yes, produced the album, performs two tunes alone and appears with Martin Taylor on another four numbers. Howe's love of country music and Atkins-style picking is evident on "Tailpiece", where he plays guitar, banjo and lap steel, and Charlie Chaplin's "Smile", played as a duet with Taylor. Martin Taylor contributes 11 tunes on his own, playing standards (including a Django-influenced "Thank Heaven for Little Girls", "All the Things You Are", and Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere") and four originals. Most tunes feature two or more of Chinery's guitars, which Howe and Taylor overdub to create complete performances. "Blue Bossa" is the most outstanding example of multitracking, where Taylor plays rhythm on a D'Aquisto Centura, then overlays a succession of single-line and octave choruses played on 18 other Blue Guitars, which Chinery commissioned to display the craftsmanship of America's top luthiers. Taylor effectively increases and releases tension throughout "Blue Bossa", switching to a different guitar every 16 seconds. The CD ends with "Harpnosis", a Greek-flavored Howe-Taylor composition featuring five harp guitars. Masterpiece Guitars provides great listening, but offers much more as an audio document of many little- or never-recorded guitars in the hands of two of today's top players.
© Patrick Ragains

Martin Taylor's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to No Pedestrians (RealAudio)

Patrick Ragains interviews Martin Taylor!! - click here

David Cullen "Grateful Guitar", Solid Air SACD 2041, 2003

Nearly ten years ago, the death of Jerry Garcia marked the end of the long, strange trip known as the Grateful Dead. David Cullen figures enough time has passed to properly evaluate the band's contribution to American music. Though they were noted for psychedelic overtures and percussive space jams, it could be argued that the Dead were a "guitar player's" band. This San Francisco born guitarist proves that plausible theory on this brilliant collection of solo acoustic renderings of the Dead's classic cannon. For fans of "Working Man's Dead", "American Beauty", "Reckoning", and "Dead Set", Cullen's "Grateful Guitar" is a perfection companion. Tribute albums which tread on sacred ground are almost always a dangerous endeavor. Cullen ably confronts the daunting task of re-working songs etched in stone in the same easygoing manner as did his mentors with two important distinctions: he never drifts from the original structure of each composition, and his improvisations stay true to the song's primal melodic appeal. For "Uncle John's Band" Cullen employs a myriad of arpeggios and two and three note groupings to gradually reveal the motif in the verses. The pedal tone on open D for "I Know You Rider" builds just enough anticipation until the familiar melody kicks in. The disco-Dead get their rootsy props on "Shakedown Street" as Cullen often quotes Phil Lesh's descending bass line and adds a few more 7 chords into the mix than did Garcia and Weir, who were then under the tutelage a very funky, and commercial hit conscious Lowell George. Cullen emphasizes the jazzy, shuffle feel of Garcia's solo gem "Sugaree" with detailed finger-picking and soulful chord intervals. The most famous acoustic guitar intro of all time, "Friend of the Devil" stays put, though Cullen's up-tempo rendition affords the verses a vigorous shot-in-the-arm which was not something the Dead often accomplished, if ever. You'll be amazed at the breadth of the Greteful Dead's contribution to acoustic music from this disc, and this album will also serve as an inspiration and lesson to guitar players to explore the classics in the same manner as Cullen.
© Tom Semioli

David Cullen's Website Buy it at Acoustic Music Resource

Willy Porter, "High Wire Live", Six Degrees Records 6570361094-2, 2003

One man, one guitar (one notable exception), on a performance high wire. One high flier with a fanatical fan base and a reputation as a monster in concert. One record with a lot to prove -- absolutely live, "no studio chicanery". The resulting set-cuts from various venues -- succeeds in showcasing Willy Porter's enormous and idiosyncratic talents. His chops are on display in the opener, "Tribe". A hypnotic intro builds to a series of staccato notes. Porter cranks up to full throttle. The instrument becomes an orchestra. Driving bass with sustain propels feverish playing in the treble. Percussive strums add drama. The vocals are emotional and intense. The song writing is equally intense, here the atmospheric portrait of a mentor whose "strength is my razor", whose "faith is my gun." Word choice is precise ("She's a raging river, she's a storm at sea / She's an arrow in the quiver of the warrior in me"). No let up in the passion, as Porter breaks into "Angry Words" (full capo on the 2nd fret, partial capo on 3, 4, and 5). "Unconditional" reflects beautifully ("in my hour of dying... /stay by my side... / Give me strength over what I'm afraid of / In the face of unconditional love"). "Breathe" (tuned C#,G#,C#,D#,G#,C#), a healing, says "go easy on yourself"; its relentless guitar never goes easy. "Jesus on the Grille" -- a cross on the front of a truck -- brings humor ("momma get out of the road/you're gonna get run over by the Savior") and some bottleneck into the mix. Martin Barre from Jethro Tull adds electric lead to the lone cover -- Richard Shindell's "You Stay Here". "Mystery" ends the set with a sensual love song, some scatting, and groovy non-verbal audience participation. In the instrumental encore, "Road Bone", Porter plays like a punk John Fahey on speed. High Wire Live should come with a warning label, "Listening to this disc may cause an uncontrollable urge to attend a Willy Porter concert".
© David Kleiner

Willy Porter's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Unconditional (streaming mp3)

Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, "Pictures at an Exhibition", GSP Recordings GSP 1026CD, 2003

While the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and Los Romeros are perhaps the modern trailblazers of the guitar ensemble, taking the form to new heights, others are riding along filling their own niche in this style with mastery and power. Such is the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, and their most recent recording, "Pictures at an Exhibition", captures them in the splendor of creative movement. While the majority of the disk renders Mussorgsky's great work in 4 guitar parts, they do a magnificent job with 3 pieces each by the great Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla and Spain's Isaac Albeniz. The works by Piazzolla are rendered with great sensitivity to his genius of taking traditional elements and melding them with the modern. "Tango para una Cuidad" comes alive with counterpoint and an almost dissonant harmony in the different parts; it's just great. There is some fine playing, and wonderful interplay between the guitars. Joseph Hagedorn, who did the arranging of the Musorgsky works, admits in the liner notes that he took on the arrangement because he wanted "to do something audacious". Honestly, this is the best arrangement of these 16 movements I have heard (chalk it up to my predilection for classical guitar as a form). While staying true to the original sense of the pieces, the Quartet brings fresh colors and lyricism. Two of the guitars are played in altered tunings, which makes maintaining pitch a problem, but they seem to pull it off without difficulty. Their sense of tempo is always spot on, and their refined musicianship leaved you eagerly awaiting the next measure. These are some pictures rendered in all their sublime beauty. © Kirk Albrecht

The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet's Website Buy it at GSP Recordings

Roland Dyens, "Night and Day", GHA Records GHA 126.061, 2003

It's not a shift, but a paradigm chasm from classical to jazz guitar playing. Although all music shares a common vocabulary, the vernacular of jazz with its odd idioms of syncopation and blue notes might seem like an exotic dialect to a classical player, a southern drawl to one raised speaking an Irish brogue. Truly authentic communication with an instrument via classical or jazz, as with a brogue or drawl, demands there be no mimicry... the dialect must be a native tongue. Roland Dyens proves on "Night and Day" that he is fabulously bilingual. Although having firmly established his preeminence as a classical guitar player with prior recordings of Villa-Lobos, Satie, Sor and Weiss, Dyens has shown perhaps more fluency with modern genres, including arrangements of Georges Brassens songs, Thelonius Monk and Django Reinhardt standards, even a tribute to the music of Frank Zappa. "Night and Day" likewise showcases Dyens' facility with novel and virtuosic renderings of classic American jazz standards on solo nylon-string guitar. Like Martin Taylor, Dyens plays on one guitar that which sounds to be impossible, both in speed and articulation of diverging counterpoints. Particularly on "Bluesette", "All the Things You Are" and "Take the A Train", one must pause to verify that these are not duos. And as any serious musician strives to do, the technical difficulty of these arrangements is camouflaged, made subliminal by the carefree and contagious exuberance Dyens infuses into these tunes. Even the simpler, slower melodies "I Love Paris", "Misty", and "Over the Rainbow" find a very complex expression with Dyens' genius for arranging... but in the process of finding their way to your ear become simple again, natural, a native tongue that speaks to you sincerely in a dialect you've always heard.
© Alan Fark

Roland Dyens' Website Buy it at Amazon.com

Corey Harris, "From Mississippi to Mali", Rounder Records 11661-3198-2, 2003

Corey Harris blew the blues scene wide open with his "Between Midnight and Day" in 1995. His killer guitar licks and raspy vocals paid homage to America’s rural blues roots while imbuing that project with a vital urgency. Harris continues his blues exploration on "Mississippi to Mali", delving into the genre’s African connections. Harris actually traveled to Mali, recording eight of the CD’s 15 tracks in Niafunke with master musician Ali Farka Toure (recognized as the African king of the blues) and two of his band mates. But Harris is more than a mere student of the music -- he soaks it in, lives in it and makes it his own. The African tracks convey a bevy of primal emotions, deep and moving, although the songs themselves are basically simple. The clattering percussion line in some of them by Souleyman Kane wavers between hypnotic and maddening. Harris wisely includes several more traditional songs which he recorded in Mississippi with harmonica ace Bobby Rush and blues drummer Sam Carr. They take the legendary "Big Road Blues" and enjoy the heck out of it, and turn in a similarly spirited version of "Station Blues". No other artist today comes close to conveying the breadth and depth of blues that Harris does. His brave and fun seventh album is truly a fascinating collection, familiar yet exotic.
© Fred Kraus

Corey Harris' Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Big Road Blues (RealAudio)

Marcos Amorim Trio, "Cris on the Farm", Adventure Music AM1005 2, 2003

Adventure Music is a new label which appears to be carrying the baton for acoustic music in the Americas in a way that ECM did in Europe in the latter decades of the 20th century. Intelligent, artistic, unadorned and acoustic might be the mission statement for these hemispheric alter-egos, though what may be the heyday for Adventure Music is just beginning its birth. The Marcos Amorim Trio seems to also embody this same mission of its sponsoring label. Amorim's brand of pleasing acoustic jazz might be compared to that of a well-known ECM artist, Egberto Gismonti. Unlike ECM's purely dreamy and ethereal signature sound, and like Gismonti's, Amorim's music is more infectious, often capturing the steamy rhythmicity of the choro and samba to which he was exposed as a teen in Rio. Amorim owes much debt in this regard to his near-telepathic collaborator and bassist Ney Conceição, who channels Jaco Pastorius with his slapping thumbstyle. "Bons Amigos" is one of two songs on this disc which is not an Amorim original (written by Brasilian guitarist Toninho Horta), and his deft style and timbre on this track will remind listeners of Pat Metheny. Amorim can do ECM-dreamy as evidenced by the title cut "Cris on the Farm" and opening cut "Juca and Helena", sounding much like John Abercrombie. Amorim is a gifted composer and guitarist who has drawn from his Brasilian roots and extrapolated from them his own unique sound which forges fluidly into the 21st century.
© Alan Fark

Marcos Amorim's Website (at Adventure Music) Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Manaíra (streaming mp3)

Doug B. Smith, "A Slight Remove", Sabre Records SR02/2, 2003

With a superlative tone, even better technique, and a ton of touch, Doug B. Smith nudges the ethereal realm when in classical mode. The magic begins as he opens his second disc, "A Slight Remove", with a solo acoustic trilogy, "Under the Weather/Hangin’ Out/Nervous Energy". The rather pedestrian title does little justice to the gorgeous self-penned melodies therein. Smith shines with his arrangements of two traditional tunes, "Iree Seose/The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended". Again, beautiful work, as is the wistful title track, which he says he wrote "in response to a longing for balance and peace, which we all need". On this number, Smith tries his hand at slide guitar, a pleasant enough interlude. Unfortunately, he missteps on the majority of the other tracks. A moody ode to prizefighter Sonny Liston misses the mark as does Smith’s breathy-talky vocal. He adds his vocals to five other tracks, none of which work particularly well. It’s tough to fault an artist for expanding his repertoire, but with Smith’s talent, such vocal forays and pop-based ventures only detract. Then again, maybe he thought he wouldn’t have a chance to bring out the banjo and mandolin any time soon. "Magdalen Laundry", as well-meaning as it might be, is a jarring inclusion, but not as puzzling as his over-the-top arrangement of "Goodnight Irene". For a talented performer who can create stunning, evocative musical landscapes without seeming to think twice, this is a confounding collection. It does, however, leave the listener yearning mightily for more of Smith’s purely solo acoustic work.
© Fred Kraus

Doug B. Smith's Website Buy it here
Listen to Hangin' Out (streaming mp3)

Ken Hatfield Trio, "The Surrealist Table", Arthur Circle Music ACM-1062, 2003

Composer, arranger, and fingerstyle master, Ken Hatfield delivers, yet again, with his new release "The Surrealist Table". Joined by bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Jeff Hirschfield, Hatfield offers several melodically and harmonically lovely compositions alongside a couple of downright funky ones, all performed on classical guitar in the great tradition of the late Charlie Byrd. The listener becomes immediately aware of Hatfield's formidable talents on the album opener, "Chimera", on which he develops a motif thoroughly, explores every nuance, and exploits each permutation with an edge-of-your-seat enthusiasm. Throughout the entire collection of songs Hatfield never once loses sight of the initial musical idea, making this truly one of the most exciting and purely musical jazz recordings I've heard in years. Favorites include the wistful waltz "A Demain", and "Iphigeneia", which brings to mind the lush and complex harmony of songs like Thelonius Monk's "Round Midnight" or, perhaps, some of Duke Ellington's darker pieces. The title track, a fresh take on a minor blues form, is hypnotically enticing and tres bluesy. The album closer, "Funkissimo", captures Hatfield and bandmates at their down and dirtiest. Frankly, there isn't a bad track or performance here.
© Chip O'Brien

Ken Hatfield's Website Buy it here

Buddy Guy, "Blues Singer", Silvertone Records CD-01241, 2003

While the latest release by legendary bluesmaster Buddy Guy, is a pleasant surprise among many blues purists, long time fans of the artist may have a less than favorable opinion. On "Blues Singer", Guy explores new territory, instead of his signature high voltage, electric blues style, he captures the authentic sound of an earlier time. Leaving the electric guitar at home, Guy concentrates solely on a no frills, back to basics, all acoustic version of the Delta blues format. "Blues Singer" contains 12 tracks of popular blues originals, three written by the late John Lee Hooker, as Guy pays personal tribute to this legendary blues icon. You’ll find this latest recording to be focused strictly on the traditional, roots style of blues. Guy doing a complete 180, from the style of blues heard on his previous release, "Sweet Tea", back in 2001. "Blues Singer" tries to present each track as an intimate performance by the artist, falling short at times. On the opening track, "Hard Time Killing Floor", Guy gives a strong vocal performance on this Skip James tune with plenty of heart felt emotion. Eric Clapton and B.B. King make guest appearances on the next two tracks, "Crawlin' Kingsnake" and "Lucy Mae Blues". Both tracks are the high point of this CD, shining with excellent fretwork and guitar riffs exchanged between all three artists. Unfortunately, the remaining tracks seem to slow down to a crawl, at times sounding like one long song. Midway through, "Moanin' and Groanin'" picks up the pace, with Guy producing some great fingerpicking and vocal accents. "Blues Singer" tries to recreate the original feel of these blues standards using minimal back up from drums and upright bass. Overall, the concept works, presenting a genuine rootsy feel to the recording. The lack of energy and drive needed from start to finish is obviously missing. "Blues Singer" may not be Guy’s best effort, but it certainly isn’t his worst. There’s a sincere demonstration of the Delta format, but Guy is much better served staying with what he does best.
© Pamela Dow

Buddy Guy's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to Hard Time Killin' Floor (RealAudio)

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