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January & February 2015 Short Takes

Bruce Mathiske "The Mathiske Suites" 2014 Australian guitarist Bruce Mathiske caught my attention nearly ten years ago with his CD, "Guitar Genius," a sonically and conceptually varied work which included originals and imaginative arrangements of well-known tunes, ranging from Duke Ellington's "Caravan" to Paul Simon's "Gumboots." The Mathiske Suites finds him exploring new musical settings centered around the guitar. For this outing he's recruited Australia's Metropolitan Orchestra, an ensemble of strings, brass, and woodwinds. The suites were inspired by places around the world he's visited and come to love. The disc begins with "Mathiske Suite in E Minor," a piece in three movements influenced by his impressions of Bolivian miners, Peru's mystical prehistory, and Chile's vibrant capital, Santiago. Mathiske introduces the piece with arpeggios played on his nylon string guitar, but is soon joined by the orchestra, which allows him to play single-string melody over their background. The three movements are, in turn, gentle, mysterious, and modern. "Suite in D Minor" follows, evoking Spain, while "Suite in A Minor" presents a conversation between guitar and orchestra, which may be the best-realized collaboration in the program. The concluding "Suite in C" represents Mathiske's native Australia, and, for me, inspired vivid visual images of that country's history and landscape. I also enjoyed the playful reference to Django Reinhardt's "Minor Swing," which appears in the second movement, then returns later to conclude the piece. These four suites bear repeated listening and meaningfully extend Bruce Mathiske's body of work. I can't wait to hear his next project. © Patrick Ragains

Jim Volk "Past Atmospheres - Present States" 2014 Cheeky. Talented. Versatile. Those would be words to describe "Past Atmostphere-Present States," a new CD of guitar music by Jim Volk. Cheeky because he messes with our heads in his song titles, like the opening cut, "Meadowlark Lemonade" (you have to know about the Harlem Globetrotters to catch the reference). The CD has eight originals and three covers – a rollicking version of The Beatles' "When I'm Sixty Four," the winter holiday classic "Frosty the Snowman," and to take us even further afield musically, the CD finished with electric bass and guitar on Brian Eno's "Somber Reptiles." It's a potpourri of styles and instruments, from Spanish to rock to bluegrass to blues. We get six-string ("Music for Real Estate Ads"), 12-string (Neil's Lament"), electric, nylon string flamenco ("The Spanish Imposition"), an island-tinged Christmas carol on ukulele ("Angels We Have Heard on Hawaii"), and even some banjo for good measure ("Reel 'Em In). "Spirit Stroll" is a cultural stew – Spanish, Indian, African somehow finding space on the same track (he really shows off his chops on this song). In all the songs, Volk shows he can play about anything, but he is a terrific thumb-style picker in the tradition of Merle Travis or Chet Atkins. The disc ends with a bonus track (not listed on the liner notes), just a few passing snippets of steel string, as if to say goodbye, thanks for listening. © Kirk Albrecht

Ryan Michael Richards "Experiences" 2014 Ryan Michael Richards debut CD "Experiences" oozes with the signature tone and vibe of producer Will Ackerman of Windham Hill Records fame. Richards performs 12 original compositions that feature a variety of accompaniment performed by an impressive list of multi instrumentalist including Ackerman and cellist Eugene Friessen. The fretwork is subtle, refined and pleasing throughout with reverberations of Ackerman's discography. "Her Garden" opens this disc with a simmering explosion of sonic texture merging Richards's crisp technique with a mesmerizing electric violin played by Derrik Jordan. What follows is a textured and melodic soundscape that ebbs and flows with Richard's guitar. The production is simply superb. Richards, Ackerman and co-producer Tom Eaton have a given new age fans a real treat with "Experiences." © James Filkins

Duo Joncol "Luz de Iberia" 2014 Comprised of German guitarst Britta Schmitt and Spanish guitarist Carles Guisado, Duo Joncol performs a wonderfully musical and diverse program on their sophomore CD release "Luz de Iberia." A fiery performance of Joaquin Rodrigo's "Tonadilla" sets the mood for the rest of the CD. The world premiere recording of Carles Gasull's "13 Bonsais" follows. This modern composition offers diverse textures and is served well by the musicality of the perormers. There are other notable tracks including the jazzy "Una Luz del Norte" (Carles Guisado) and "Alma de mujer" (Chano Dominguez). The two works by Isaac Albeniz ("Capricho Catalan" and "El Puerto"), both arranged by Duo Joncol, really shine and pull the listener in with well executed lyricism. "Luz de Iberia" is a beautifully produced CD that is a joy. © Philip Hemmo

Johannes Linstead "Midnight Rhumba" 2014 Linstead, who hails from the Dominican Republic and Toronto, plays with breathtaking technique - fluid, precise, elegant - yet with an ease that belies his virtuosity. His compositions are breathtakingly diverse as well, drawing from influences all over the world, spanning New Age, Latin, and smooth jazz sounds. "Midnight Rhumba," his latest album, is like a Latin fiesta, with fiery sunset colors, the punch of a strong tropical drink, and full complement of backup percussion, drums, and strings to complete the party. (Max Alejandro Ventura on fiddle is sensational, as is Jordan Abraham on fiddle on "Calypso Island.") Linstead's music draws from Latin dance (salsa, meringue, tango), Django Reinhardt gypsy swing, and flamenco, but his sound and compositions also reflect appreciation for classical music. While his pieces are varied and arresting, shifting effortlessly in tempo and mood, it is his playing that most impresses. His runs, as in tango "Radio Argentina," are jaw-dropping, as clear and penetrating as shards of ice. The CD goes from flamenco to swing to Latin rhythms with such ease the connections among the styles are felt in the blood rather than in the mind. Linstead has justifiably won many awards and has had eight best-selling albums on the "world fusion" stage; "Midnight Rhumba" is among his best. © Céline Keating

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

Kim Simpson - Tex Mex Guitar EP
Sheila Mac Donald - Tangle of Trees
Christina Holmes - Peace Love & C. Holmes
Justin Yates - The Jig is Up

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