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September & October 2014 Short Takes

Johnna Jeong "Solo Me," 2014 In her debut CD, Johnna Jeong opens a window to her soul by giving us a glimpse at the music she holds most closely to her heart. "Solo Me" is a collection of Spanish/South-American compositions, as well as several works composed by Jeong, all of which gracefully bridge the gap between classical guitar, jazz, and popular styles. The album as a whole has an immediate and broad appeal, all the while exploring immense musical and emotive depth. All of the selections feature distinctive rhythms, bold compositional gestures, and haunting extended harmonies. Jeong displays an effortless command of the instrument as she navigates the complex interpretive language that this style of music demands, bringing to life the spirit of this powerful and unique genre. "Solo Me" is a perfect introduction to Jeong, showcasing not only her outstanding playing, but also the music she holds most dear. © Timothy Smith

John Mark Nelson "Sings the Moon," 2014 Youthful John Mark Nelson still has to wait a few months longer to get a legal drink in his home state of Minnesota, but he's on a tear recording-wise with the release of his third album, "Sings the Moon." He reveals an adventurous DIY ethic on this one with its blend of contemplative melodies and lyrics and extended instrumental passages that veer into ambient soundtrack territory. "A Place of My Own" shows he gets hooks, and his minute-long ambient pieces like "When We Grow Old" spliced between his more folk-style songs like "Shorebird" show he likes to move beyond them. It's an interesting strategy that belies a restless talent with much to offer in the way of strong songwriting for his warm, even gentle, voice. If there's a hint of fellow Upper Midwesterner Bon Iver here, who knows, maybe it's in the water. © Steve Klingaman

Nate Najar Trio " Aquarela Do Brasil," 2014 Guitarist Nate Najar has released a bossa nova-flavored set that pays tribute to early masters of the genre, yet sounds spontaneous and fresh. Based in Washington, D.C., Najar has performed frequently at D.C.'s Blues Alley, recorded with vocalist Melba Moore, and released four other CDs as a leader. Bassist Tommy Cecil and drummer Chuck Redd round out Najar's trio, and are joined on several tracks by Harry Allen on tenor sax and Duduka Da Fonseca on drums. The set features Najar's guitar on tracks like "Carinhoso" and Charlie Byrd's "Charlotte's Fancy". There's plenty of improvisation here, as on Jobim's "Ligia", which recalls the composer's collaboration with Stan Getz, but with a more aggressive pulse. The music is quite enjoyable and Najar's ensemble displays solid professionalism. The disc concludes with an extended version of "Canto De Ossahna", featuring even more straight-ahead blowing than the rest of the set. Recommended. © Patrick Ragains

James Hurley "Voice and Guitar," 2014 What a concept… just voice and guitar. Thankfully, James Hurley is adept at a variety of styles. He also understands that a solo needs to develop. The break in the bluesy "Sugar" has three-movements that start at about 1:40. It's terrific, especially when Hurley maintains a walking bass line in combination with some nice picking. However, Hurley's lyrics tend not to develop, instead stating an idea then repeating it. I admired Hurley's light touch on the strings. Listen to the intro to "Goodbye Rain" or the run that opens "When You Fall." That first track, with its Bob Dorough-esque cool jazz vocal and lyrical sensibility, is an album highlight. In fact, the lighter songs ("Got to Thinking" and "I'm with You") are the most successful throughout. In the end, this CD is about the picking. Guitarists will find much they can learn from and imitate on "Voice and Guitar." © David Kleiner

Shaï Sebbag "En Equilibre," 2014 "En Equilibre" is Shai Sebbag's third recording, and in the liner notes he states it is the most personal record he's done. He seems to be making a name for himself both in France and abroad: this past January he was invited to play in Muriel Anderson's All Star Guitar Night, and she joins him in a charming duet on "La Danse des Loukoums." The title cut, "en equilibre," circles around a theme weaving in and out taking the listener to that place of balance. "La Danse du Loukoum" spins some decidedly North African melodies. "Into the Wild" is a journey marked out by the use of triplets, ascending and descending the fingerboard. Sebbag plays a solo guitar version of Duke Ellington's jazz standard, "Caravan," infusing it with a wild, dervish feel while thumping out a driving bass line. "Bach to the Future" employs some counterpoint reminiscent of J.S., but with a modern edge. By his own admission, Sebbag has a deep love and respect for the people of the Ukraine, and he pays them homage in "Souvenirs d'Ukraine" with a folk-song tune. This is an interesting collection of music played on steel string guitar, with influences from North Africa to Pierre Bensusan to Jean Felix Lalanne evident. One disappointment - the disc is brief at just 36 minutes. © Kirk Albrecht

Here's some other great music we received this month:

Ancient Future - Yearning for the Wind
Mario M. Zelaya - Olalla
Sean Hayward - Nowhere Found
Ivor Game - Dizzy Spells
Audra Connolly - Slowly
Ben Tyree - Burn It!

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