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September & October Short Takes

Sean Harkness "Aloft", Windham Hill 01934-11432, 1999 Iíve learned to be confident that Mark Walker, the percussionist, will be found collaborating with some of the worldís best acoustic nylon-string jazz guitarists. Heís lent his rhythmic skills to Oregonís "Northwest Passage" and Fareed Haqueís "Opaque". So, his name in the credits of Sean Harknessí "Aloft" seemed like a stamp of approval to counterbalance my unfamiarity with Harkness. My initial reaction to "Aloft", though, was a bit of a wince and the thought to myself under my breath "Oh no, not smooth jazz". With repeat play, though, Harkness has won me over. The recording does seem targeted to an audience for commercial appeal in the jazz style of Marc Antoine and the flamenco of Ottmar Liebert ("Luna Baillando", "Siempre Conmingo"). But "Aloft" has reminded me that the generic musical paradigms to which we cling are often shortsighted. Smooth jazz really can be done well, as Harkness proves on the Earl Klugh-like numbers "Paradise Reef" and "Summer Solstice". And more impressively, Harkness has the versatility to boldly don the hat of the fingerstylist as on "Coming Home" or of the neo-classical guitarist as on "Wynkus McGynkus". The latter number is no less than astounding, a less commercial direction Iíd love to hear more from him. Buy Aloft

Jim Goodin "Celtic Journey to the Path", Wood and Wire Music WWM152, 1999 I do profess a preference for the minor mode, and in that respect I find Jim Goodinís compositions very appealing, very meditative. But, on "Celtic Journey to the Path" itís too much of a good thing. Each song uses what sounds to be similar progressions of minor chords sliding up and down the neck, and similar fingerpicking patterns which lull by repetition more than by creating a mood. Often, especially on "The Story", there is a snapping open string which is distracting and dominates by volume and overuse. Although itís obvious from reading Goodinís promotional materials that he emulates Michael Hedges a great deal, he seems to be more adept in playing or composing in a Celtic style ("Quiet Moments", Carolanís Welcome") than with a slapstyle which is sometimes faltering ("For Michael", "Steps Forward", "W-Y-L"). I do hear a spark in Jim Goodinís compositions and playing, but there seems not to have yet been the proper tinder to turn it to flame.

Travis Nevels "Freestyle Guitar", Independent Records, Inc., 2000 Travis Nevels has self-produced a solo guitar recording full of forward momentum and pleasing audacity. His music is especially full of the kind of boogie blues riffs that you might expect out of Billy Gibbons were he to play acoustic guitar exclusively, or perhaps John Lee Hooker at double-speed crossed with a slapstyle Š la Michael Hedges. His hammer-ons and pull-offs deftly roll and tumble, recalling Peter Greenís best acoustic performances as on "Then Play On". Nevels is not so much of a purist that he canít experiment with delayed and doubled sound textures ("Levitation", "Land of Enchantment") or rap his knuckles on the soundbox when obviously seized by a feeling to do so. In fact, Nevels says in his liner notes that he "plays the guitar on his own terms, doesnít concentrate on finesse" and "caters to a rougher audience". Judging by the results, Iíd say thatís a formula that works. "Freestyle Guitar" is very good.

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