Minor 7th May/June 2000: Peter Mulvey, Sylvain Luc, Biréli Lagrène, Laurence Juber, Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, Ted Reece, Colin Hay, Anthony Hindson
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May/June, 2000

Peter Mulvey: "The Trouble With Poets", Signature Sounds SIG 1258, 2000

The trouble with poets is that they usually can't play guitar very well. That's not the case with Peter Mulvey, which puts him in a class with David Wilcox and James Taylor, a precious few able to meld very capable guitar work with poetic lyricism. The music on "The Trouble With Poets", though, has more of a funky, alternative edge akin to the Dave Matthews Band. Like Wilcox, Mulvey appears to be a guy who likes to fiddle around with tuning pegs. The only tuning that appears twice on "Poets" is CGCFBbC. Mulvey's acoustic guitar is embellished by the tasteful electric and ambient guitar textures of David "Goody" Goodrich, who can also accept kudos for the excellent production of this project. It took me a full listen to this CD to realize that there were no drums on several tracks. The fact that I never missed them is a testament to Mulvey's impeccable rhythmic delivery. Despite Mulvey's disclaimers of poets often having lapses in earnestness, he does justice to the poet's mission of offering us glimpses of insight. On "Wings of the Ragman", he invites us to view a gallery of the commonplace as magical art, and consequently as manifestations of the sublime or cosmological: "The street that you live on is brush strokes on canvas, you'd see it if you turned around, it's nothing new, happens each day… it's all around you now, still you don't see". Mulvey doesn't wallow in self-absorption, however, and in the catchy pop title track pokes playful fun at the self-appointed credentials of poets. This is a song you'll be hearing on the radio. Mulvey is an artist I won't be able to call "obscure" for very long.

Peter Mulvey's Webpage Buy it at Amazon.com

Sylvain Luc and Biréli Lagrène, "Duet", Dreyfus Jazz FDM 36604-2, 2000

Those who have heard the term "Hot Jazz" peculiar to the Django era, but who have never actually felt it may do well to consider an initiation via Sylavin Luc and Bireli Lagrène’s "Duet". I’d suggest spinning tracks number 2 and 4 ("Douce Ambiance"- a Django number- and "Made in France") in your CD player, but WARNING... watch very closely for smoke coming from your audio equipment, your CD tray may be melting. Luc and Lagrène share a telepathic musical wavelength on acoustic guitars, and their rapport is reminiscent of Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine who likewise culled material and technique from Django Reinhardt for their duet recordings of the 1970s. It may be sacrilege to say so, but when I play "Duet" alongside my Django 10" LP from 1954, Django almost pales, even accounting for the difference in fidelity of the recordings. Judging by his playing, perhaps Lagrène is a reincarnation of Django as he comes from likewise humble gypsy origins in the Alsace region of France. Not all is gypsy intensity here, though. There are quiet moments such as on "La Ballade Irlandaise", "Zurezat", "Les Amoureux des Bancs Publics" and "Syracuse". There are jazz standards "Road Song" and "Stompin’ at the Savoy". But even the jazz interpretations of pop numbers "Blackbird", "Time after Time" and "Isn’t She Lovely" sizzle with a rhythmic intensity that McCartney, Cindy Lauper and Stevie Wonder likely never had envisioned.

Biréli Lagrène's Website, Sylvain Luc's Website Buy it at Amazon.com

Laurence Juber, "The Collection", Solid Air Records SACD2003, 2000

I was never a big fan of Paul McCartney’s "Wings" in their heyday, but after hearing the fingerstyle solo work of Laurence Juber on "The Collection", I now realize I missed an incredible guitar player. Whether there was no showcase for his full talents with Wings or whether I just wasn’t listening closely, I’m not sure. "The Collection" is literally a collection of his past solo, duet and trio works (and two new solos), which luckily does showcase Juber’s considerable guitar virtuosity. I have always thought that "Little Wing" would make a great acoustic guitar song, and Juber has proven himself the player to do Hendrix justice with his acoustic rendition opening this CD. On "Little Wing" he displays a precision touch on the fretboard with hammer-ons, pull-offs and glissades, honed trademark techniques also exhibited on "Mosaic" and "Pass the Buck". Many of his tunes such as "Private Dick" (a duet with Preston Reed), "Rules of the Road" and "Cobalt Blue" have a jazzy, ridin’-in-your-convertible with-the-top-down, beatnik era groove which make you want to snap your fingers and utter such idioms as "cool, man". But like Yin and Yang, these songs are juxtaposed with those compositions of great beauty played with remarkable sensitivity like "Lunar Eclipse", "In Your Arms" and "Jesus Joy of Man’s Desire". It’s no wonder that Laurence Juber was voted "Guitarist of the Year" in the readers poll of Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine. Superlatives describe his art and his artistry commands respect.

Laurence Juber's Website Buy it at Amazon.com

Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, "Over Land And Sea", Albany Records 339, 1999

It’s curious that so many gifted acoustic guitarists come from Minneapolis... Steve Tibbetts, Preston Reed, Dean Magraw and now the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet (must be the water...). I must confess that I don’t often listen to classical music and more naturally gravitate to jazz, fingerstyle and rootsier forms. But this CD has quickly become an easy favorite with me. "Over Land and Sea" doesn’t categorize neatly as classical, it borrows from contemporary and world musics. This is not your father’s classical music. The guitar interpretations on this disc not only call on the varied geographic and cultural terrains of composers from Brasil, Finland, Russia, Italy, Spain, Scotland and America, but likewise visit a spectrum of mood as expansive as the human spirit. "Over Land and Sea" opens with a beautiful song, Assad’s "Uarekena", which itself journeys through emotional landscapes painted with a recurring motif which is alternately intent, dissonant and then forgiving. The two pieces written by Finnish accordionist Kalaniemi evoke a Middle Eastern air, "Hermannin Riili" rhythmic enough to coerce a lively but brief degeneration into blatantly American funk. Stravinski’s "Five Easy Pieces" don’t sound that way, especially "Española" which strolls among cockeyed tempos and harmonies. The theme from eccentric guitarist Funk Pearson’s "Elassomorph" might be from a 1950s Cowboy Western and is truly a creative endeavor by the MGQ, who weave and intertwine classical, experimental and jazz forms on this piece. "Over Land and Sea" is elegant, provocative and visionary in its arrangements and guitar virtuosity. The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet will likely have a crossover appeal to those who may not usually embrace classical music.

The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet Website Buy it at Amazon.com

Ted Reece, "Song For America", Sage Sound SFACR112, 1999

Sometimes an unexpected combination of chords or a certain sympathy with the fretboard raises goosebumps, irrespective of the technical ability of the guitarist. The "goosebump index" of Ted Reece’s "Song For America" is off the meter, as is his ability. Reece obviously owes a debt of influence to Michael Hedges and Preston Reed as evidenced by his slapstyle on "Temporal Groove" and "Rock the World Gently". But Ted Reece is a versatile player and I hear influences from a multitude of styles. His solo fingerstyle on "Bondy’s Pastures" nearly conjures aural images of a bluegrass band featuring fiddlers playing along if I strain my imagination. There are pretty ballads such as "El Paisano" and "Broken Arrow". There’s a Kottke-esque rag on slide guitar, "Where Does that Leave Me?". The tune "Celtic Dances" actually sounds to my ear more like a Spanish jazz, fired out with pizzicato flatpicking, and which magically morphs via Reece’s wizardry into a boogie blues riff. "Song For America" is solo independent fingerstyle guitar at its best.

Ted Reece's Website Buy it at Amazon.com

Colin Hay, "Transcendental Highway", Lazy Eye Records , 1998

This is a tremendous album of mainstream acoustic music which paradoxically seems to have a very small popular audience. At least when I last checked Amazon.com’s sales ranking, "Transcendental Highway" by Colin Hay was only ranked # 24,352 in sales. This is especially surprising when one considers that Colin Hay is a Grammy winner and a founding member of the chart-topping band Men at Work. "Transcendental Highway" is worlds away from that Australian pop group sound, though. The flavor is similar to Eric Clapton’s sound after "461 Ocean Boulevard" or some of the acoustic music of Francis Dunnery. In large part he sounds like these artists because his voice is so striking and resonant. On "Goodbye My Red Rose" and "I’m Doing Fine" I’m also reminded of Clapton’s songwriting at his contemplative (versus bluesy) best. The only thing I can’t figure out is why he chose to open this CD with the tune "Transcendental Highway", a spoken word song, when his singing voice is the true jewel of his work. Hay’s brand of pop/folk often seeps with jazzy overtones á la Van Morrison, as on "If I Go". "I’ll Leave the Light On" features a very Pete Townshend Pinball Wizard-like unrelenting strum which gives an urgency and intensity to the lyrical lament of love’s loss and regret. Although "Transcendental Highway" is more of a music-lover’s CD than a guitar-lover’s CD, it’s an excellent one at that. Look for a new release from Hay very soon.

Colin Hay's Website Buy it at Amazon.com

Anthony Hindson, "It's A Curious Life", Wind In Hare WIHM CD 1001 , 1999

Anthony Hindson is a British acoustic guitarist who has assembled an all-star cast from the jazz and classical Indian worlds to produce an impressive hybridization entitled "It’s a Curious Life", a debut CD which he’s characterized as "turn of the century rock and raga". The stars are Shankar (double violin) and Zakir Hussain (tabla) formerly of Shatki, Gary Husband (drums) who was a memorable sideman with Allan Holdsworth, and Tony Williams and Jack Bruce, from, well... you know. "Nomanoni" opens the CD with an interplay between violin, tabla and acoustic guitar which ebbs and flows like the Ganges through changeable currents both turbulent, meandering and still. It’s sort of a progressive "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" meets "Lotus Feet" which actually works. "DRH" is a pretty and melodic guitar-only song which allows Hindson to parade his 13-string guitar with its sympathetic strings to the forefront. The title track features the sweet and rock-steady vocals of Jack Bruce in an unusual Indian cadence and melody which is innovative and again, works exceptionally well. Unfortunately the CD loses momentum halfway through and slips into mediocrity. "The Waiting Room" noodles around without a coherent direction. "Kathleen" has the feel of a syrupy soundtrack and detracts from the thematic thread of fusing acoustic rock with Indian music. "It’s a Curious Life" especially shines when it capitalizes on the synergy of all its excellent participants.

Anthony Hindson's Website Buy it at Amazon.com

Laurence Juber's Guitar Techniques Laurence Juber In concert
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