Minor 7th March/April 2008: Kym Tuvim, Denis Sung-Hô, Doug Smith, Ricardo Silveira, Danny Schmidt, Grisha, Edgar Cruz, Mike Marshall & Darol Anger, Brianna Lane
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Reviewing the best in non-mainstream acoustic guitar music

March/April, 2008

Kym Tuvim, "Nothing Sweet Nothing," 2008

It's a given that so many singer-songwriters cite Joni Mitchell as an influence. They should also listen to Kym Tuvim. She's that good. Centered around great guitar grooves in open tunings, her soulful words capture the flutter and serenity of relationships without hauling out weary clichés. Her sensuous alto delivers the lyrics emotionally, sometimes in a matter-of-fact way, sometimes with regret and occasionally, with a sharp warning. She works well with the other musicians, especially drummer Chris Stromquist who adds the heartbeat and pedal steel/Dobro player Dan Tyack who offers a multitude of things, from a bluesy growl on "Flood" to tasteful accents in "Pendulum." Sometimes the arrangements are reminiscent of Patty Larkin's more recent efforts, with ethereal background instrumentation (often including Jami Sieber's expertly played cello) and haunting guitars, and at other times, the pop/folk efforts of contemporary singer-songwriters like Jann Arden. It's hard to believe that this is the first album that Tuvim has produced on her own because it sounds polished and so right for her songs. In "Reach" she sings "Sometimes your memory sinks like a stone / In the hollow of me where nothing else will go." Her percussive acoustic guitar and Sieber's cello add to the ache. "Reservoir" lays bare emotions with only a piano, cello and her expressive vocals about the other half of the relationship, someone who never says what's really going on, "You leave the editor out in the hall / But she's slipping you notes under the door." There's an urgency to her voice in the bluesy "Flood" where she goes to church with a gospel Hammond and hand claps. There are slow New Orleans jazz style horns in "Far Away," a tune about missing someone special. "Mystery" has a world weary sound with some cool bends on the guitar. She's no pop diva thank God but Tuvim knows her way around a hook -- that part that you'll be humming to yourself long after the disc stops spinning -- like the "Ah-ooh" she sings in "Birdsong." Finishing up the release is a beautiful instrumental, "Sweet Nothing," based around one of her signature-cool guitar riffs. It has a spare sound that's lush at the same time, with cocktail drums and a clarinet. Get this disc. And if you're a musician? Study it and hope you can be this good.
© Jamie Anderson

Kym Tuvim's Website Buy it at iTunes
Listen to
"Birdsong" (mp3)
Listen to Kym Tuvim at our podcast

Denis Sung-Hô, "Leo Brouwer: Concierto Elegiaco; Danzas Concertantes; Quintet," Fuga Libera, 2007

Ask any classical guitarist about Leo Brouwer, and they will no doubt go on at great length regarding his biography, his vast list of compositions for solo guitar, and the immeasurable impact his life and work has had on the history of the instrument. It would be far less likely however that they would be able to convey any knowledge regarding his compositions for guitar and small ensemble. Brouwer's chamber works remain relatively unexplored when compared to his works for solo guitar, perhaps because they are not similarly regarded as a didactic tool for students, or perhaps simply because performing guitarists, soloists by nature, are rarely afforded the opportunity to play any chamber music at all. It is precisely for these reasons that Brouwer enthusiasts can celebrate the completion of this new disc by South Korean guitarist Denis Sung-Hô. For the recording Sung-Hô selected three works, whose historical and music-theoretical significance it should be noted, are described in masterful detail in the accompanying booklet. All three selections feature the guitar, and thus, like Brouwer's solo works, are an incredible challenge both technically and musically. Sung-Hô, who studied at length with Odair and Sergio Assad, artfully explores the vast ranges of these pieces. At times the music is delicate and sparse, evoking restfulness and twilight, and later, sometimes suddenly, it becomes turbulent and rhythmic, making full use of the instrument's capabilities. All the while, Brouwer's unique compositional style is ever present. Throughout these complex works, Sung-Hô maintains complete control over the guitar and his interpretation. As the music develops he pushes the tempi to a thrilling pace, leaving no doubt to his technical mastery of the instrument. Anyone who is drawn to the guitar compositions of Leo Brouwer will revel in this unique opportunity to experience these infrequently performed works.
© Timothy Smith
Denis Sung-Hô's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Concierto Elegiaco, Finale" (mp3)

Doug Smith, "Guitar Parts," Solid Air Records, 2007

Doug Smith is a classically-trained musician who composes most of his material and performs on steel-string guitar. He won the Winfield International Fingerstyle Competition in 2006 and is in Solid Air's top echelon of players. Many of the pieces on this disc first appeared on American Gramaphone's Day Parts albums, but are newly recorded and retitled here (for publishing reasons). The opening "Ante Up" illustrates Smith’s approach -- clear melodies supported by well-developed chords and contrapuntal lines in the middle and bass registers. Smith fully develops each arrangement with contrasting rhythms and key changes that attract the listener’s attention, but always sound "right." His sound is bright, but not harsh, and a close listen suggests he uses either quite a bit of fingernail or picks. The whimsical "Night of the Raccoons" recalls "Teddy Bears’ Picnic." "Your Valentine" is one of the strongest pieces on the CD, with a melody that wends through several registers, complemented by gentle arpeggios. "Springtime" follows, evoking the optimism and uplift that comes with the season. I was surprised to hear Elmer Bernstein’s "Magnificent Seven" (although now I can’t get the Marlboro cigarette commercial that used it out off my head), but Smith plays the piece with his usual mastery. As expected, "Sor Phalanges" recalls Spanish classical guitar -- down to its bones (pun intended). On the haunting "Waltz for Sara," Smith states the melody flawlessly over an ascending bass line. Two double-tracked duets, "Ave Maria/Can’t Help Falling in Love" and "Arabesque," add variety to the program. "Arabesque" is the more classically-oriented of the two duets and features exquisite interplay between his two parts. The CD ends with "Saturday Sunrise," which is perfectly titled, due to its unhurried, reflective mood. Doug Smith is a master composer and musician. I hope this disc gains him a higher profile among guitar aficionados.
© Patrick Ragains

Doug Smith's Website Buy it at Acoustic Music Resource
Listen to "Springtime" (mp3)
Listen to Doug Smith at our podcast

Ricardo Silveira, "Outro Rio," Adventure Music, 2007

Ricardo Silveira's latest offering, "Outro Rio," is the artist's 7th release as a leader and is an exceptional follow-up to his Grammy nominated "Noite Clara." The Brazilian guitarist graduated from the prestigious Berklee college of Music, where he studied alongside jazz icons Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny. Over the last fifteen years he has recorded with some of his country's finest musicians from Milton Nascimento, Giberto Gil and Gal Costa. With "Outro Rio" Silveira firmly establishes himself as one of his country's leading composers, arrangers, and producers as well as being an extraordinarily gifted guitarist. Often compared to his contemporaries like Scofield or Metheny, these associations fail to describe a unique and impressive voice which belongs solely to Silveira. Although most of this current release showcases the acoustic guitar, several pieces also feature a deep warm hollow body electric tone. "Outro Rio" shows the guitarist's growth and maturity as a musician. Throughout the recording the leader is joined by some special guests including Maria Rita, Joao Donato, and Jaques Morelenbaum. However, it is within the intimate trio setting of acoustic bass and drums where the guitarist really shines. The opening title track finds Silveira gracefully swinging and comping over a supportive rhythm section recalling the seminal Getz/Gilberto recordings of the early sixties. On "Água Da Nascente" the guitarist employs some dazzling cascading arpeggios followed by nice intricate soloing. There is a timeless quality to this music transcending genres or trends as sounds seem to echo off lush Brazilian landscapes captivating the listener. While the guitarist admittedly approaches music from a Brazilian point of view, the result is truly a global offering and is sure to please enthusiasts of acoustic music from all nations.
© James Scott
Ricardo Silveira's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Água Da Nascente" (mp3)

Danny Schmidt, "Little Grey Sheep," Waterbug Records, 2008

Choosing Danny Schmidt's "Parables and Primes," the best folk album of 2005, Rich Warren -- the influential DJ -- saluted "perhaps the most poetic and powerful singer-songwriter of the past 20 years." Never heard of Schmidt? Let's work to fill that void. "Little Grey Sheep" collects eleven tunes (and one bonus track) that didn't make previous records. Because of their personal nature, these songs couldn't play well with anyone but each other. Where "Parables and Primes" used allegory to explore the human condition, the new release presents snapshots from the singer's life. The opener, "Leaves are Burning," does more than chronicle a harrowing attempt to quit smoking. The synth moans and banshee second vocals over Schmidt's affecting warble stage an exorcism that allows the mellow album that follows. Its spare arrangements use guest musicians effectively, such as Colin Brooks' steel guitar and, most notably, Joia Wood's vocals. Grinning interplay between Jeff Romano's harmonica and the guitar propels "Adios to Tejasito" wherein Schmidt overturns the "Screw You, We're from Texas" mentality, saluting his beloved Austin while happily lifting a finger to put the rest of the state in its place ("I'll remember Davy Crockett from afar"). Schmidt's photo songs are often both self-portraits and pictures of friends. In "Tales of Sweet Odysseus" the singer plays siren to an adventuresome companion. Matty Metcalfe's accordion establishes the pub where a virtual barful of friends joins in raising a pint in a birthday salute. Pure joy! A lovely six-string duet underpins "Emigrant, MT's" homespun images. Schmidt's trademark gentle swing and Wood's layered harmonies enrich the wedding "Song for Judy and Bridget." The unforgettable closer, "Company of Friends," ties everything together. "Little Grey Sheep," will enhance Schmidt's reputation as a wise soul, a wiseass, an incomparable wordsmith ("She made me breakfast / And I made her cry"), and one hell of a songwriter. I've done my part. You have heard of Danny Schmidt. Do your part. Buy the records and thank me later.
© David Kleiner

Danny Schmidt's Website Buy it at Amazon.com or iTunes
Listen to "Emigrant, MT" (mp3)

Grisha, "Homenaje a Sabicas," VGo Recordings, 2007

It is always a daunting task to give homage to someone considered the master in his or her field of expertise. On this recording of the flamenco songs of the great Spanish guitarist Sabicas (née Augustin Castellon Campos), Grigory Goryachev (with his own nickname Grisha) does a commendable job of recreating the fire that was Sabicas, the fountainhead of modern flamenco guitar, and an inspiration for a whole generation including the matchless Paco de Lucia. Grisha first heard the music of Sabicas in recordings possessed by his father, a Russian classical guitar teacher. With no transcriptions of the music available in his native land, he went ahead and began that challenge to master the master's form. Like Sabicas, Grisha possesses a strong right hand and blazing speed. On the lovely "Guajira," flying triplets, blistering rasguados, and clean arpeggios reveal a prodigious technique. That is the flavor of most of the 11 songs on the CD (though Grisha has recorded over 60 flamenco pieces on various recordings). There is no lack of quality anywhere in the 48 minutes of solo flamenco, including many of Sabicas' most well-known and emulated works -- "Farruca," "Bulerias," and "Taranta." The dark "Taranta" comes closest to capturing the spirit of Sabicas. While this CD will dazzle listeners with its proficiency, young Grisha (who now lives in the U.S. and has studied with Elliott Fisk), would do well to listen more to Sabicas' originals to find more of the lyrical, romantic flow which seems to come more from the soul than from the fingers. Missing as well is the percussive element of the right hand on the tabla; perhaps Grisha's classical background inhibits this technique. But for flamenco lovers wishing for something approaching flamenco puro in an age of Nuevo flamenco, "Homanaje a Sabicas" is a rewarding listen.
© Kirk Albrecht

Grisha's Website Buy it at Amazon.com or iTunes
Listen to "Danza Arabe" (mp3)
Listen to Grisha at our podcast

Edgar Cruz, "Pieces of Edgar," ECI Recordings, 2007

Like many other guitar aficionados, I first became aware (and we're talking capital "A" here) of Edgar Cruz through his amazing YouTube performance of a solo guitar version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Cruz says that "'Bohemian Rhapsody' has pretty much made me internationally famous. It took two months to write it out on a computer. It took another four months to make it playable, to make it groove. I could hack at it at first, but I could not play it. It was much harder than anything I had ever done and I wasn't good enough to play what I wrote. It's the toughest song I've ever done." "Bohemian Rhapsody" á la Cruz is all about one expedient and near-salacious way to reach a guitar fan's heart: speed and technical flash. "Pieces of Edgar," Cruz' new CD of all original solo guitar tunes, is about the other way. Here, he tantalizes with mood and vibe, escorting the listener through soundscapes flush with culture and ambiance. Cruz' Spanish heritage shines through on Latin-inflected and playful tunes such as "Walking the Paseo," "Samba de Familia," "Ceviche Circus" and "Spanish Blood." Ravel's "Bolero," performed solo with dropped D and G tuning for the lower register strings rounds out the Spanish-themed set, bold and intense, succeeding without a hint of bravado. But the true gems on this CD are "Danielle's Waltz" and "Imaginations," fingerstyle tunes which are paragons of compositional subtlety -- dreamlike, all virtuosity subliminally buried beneath beauty.
© Alan Fark

Edgar Cruz' Website Buy it at iTunes
Listen to "Imaginations" (mp3)

Mike Marshall & Darol Anger, "With Väsen," Adventure Music, 2007

One might successfully argue that Mike Marshall and Darol Anger are, simply put, two of the premier architects of modern instrumental acoustic in the United States, considering their role in Windham Hill Records as well as their participation in all manner of new-traditional recordings over the past three decades. On the latest 10-track collection from these two oft-callaborators, Marshall brings mandolin, while Anger wields violin and baritone violin, as they join forces with an instrumental Swedish trio, Väsen. Väsen features Mikael Marin on five-string violino grande, Olov Johansson on nyckelharpa and Roger Tallroth on 12-string guitar. Call the resultant exploratory amalgam "world folk" and you wouldn't be too far off. Marshall and Anger have made strong careers out of pushing the traditional music envelope of mostly American influences, but Väsen brings an entirely new flavor to the equation. Intertwined and reaching both forward and into the past, the quintet forges a sound that's part European (and beyond!), part USA, and all traditional. It's familiar, yet as the same time it's like nothing that you've ever heard. This band seems on a quest to compose songs that mine the new global/musical/digital landscape that continues to reveal itself to open-minded listeners. To whet your musical appetite, try tasting some of these appetizing titles: "Couscous," "Egypt," "Misch Masch," "Skridskolaten" and "Yew Piney Mt." It all makes for a cultural stew simmered with friendly interplay and dazzling musicianship.
© Fred Kraus

Mike Marshall & Darol Anger's Website Buy it at Amazon.com
Listen to "Timo's Jig" (mp3)

Brianna Lane, "Let You In," 2007

On "Let You In," Brianna Lane comes across as an engaging coffeehouse charmer. She leans toward the trad side of the spectrum in the arrangements on this, her third release, while keeping it fresh with her clear-as-a-bell voice -- a natural for a coffeehouse or house concert setting. The title comes from the refrain of one of her best tracks, "The Porchlight Song," "...if you don’t catch me dreaming / I’ll let you in." And this release does let you in. Lane’s voice is the main event. Her affecting delivery enlivens a set that shares a songwriting sensibility with the likes of Catie Curtis and features some of the flighty phrasing of Feist, most notably on "So What" (not the Miles tune.) In terms of placing her vocal style, she might be considered to be a distant descendent of Rickie Lee Jones. She is backed up on a number of songs by a spare, perfectly balanced, acoustic ensemble consisting of guitar, mandolin, dobro, banjo and bass, performed by guys with some impressive credits, including Dave Matthews and Shawn Colvin to name but two. They’ve worked with her before and the empathy shows. You might even get a chance to hear her with them sometime if she’s gigging in the Washington area. That said, she offers two stand-out solo performances, an intimate cover of the Foo Fighter’s "Learn to Fly" and the haunting "Prayer to St. Jude," with its beautiful marriage of lyric and melody. Give her a listen, she has all the makings of a headliner on the indie folk circuit.
© Steve Klingaman

Brianna Lane's Website Buy it at iTunes
Listen to "The Porchlight Song" (mp3)

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DVD: Sabicas, King of the Flamenco Guitar (2005)

Book/CD: Doug Smith, Contemporary Acoustic Masterclass

David Tannenbaum: Leo Brouwer's Essential Studies