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March and April 2012 Short Takes

Alki Guitar Trio "Alki," 2011 When people think of the classical guitar, their minds conjure up images of Spain, Italy, and South America. Often overlooked however, is the overwhelming influence on all styles of guitar by North American blues and rock. It's no surprise that this influence has led to some extraordinary works for the classical guitar. The Alki Guitar Trio is a collaboration between three accomplished European guitarists whose goal was to celebrate North American and lesser known Brazilian music. The highlight of the disc is the "Suite Seattle" by Kevin Callahan, which chronicles the regions and history of Seattle, complete with musical quotes from Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix. The Alki trio also contribute several of their own excellent arrangements of works by George Gershwin and Heitor Villa-Lobos. The result is a unique and beautifully performed disc showcasing some rare, yet vaguely familiar works. © Timothy Smith

Drew Gibson "The Southern Draw," 2011 Four years in the making, "The Southern Draw" broadens the wall-of-Americana-sound of Gibson's debut, "Letterbox." Instead of layering guitar, the new CD overdubs Gibson on harmonica, piano, organ and percussion. Guitar still opens and centers most arrangements, but the engineering changes. Subduing the voice and guitar -- except in solo numbers "Sugar Blue" and "Elmira" -- emphasizes Gibson's rough, intense qualities. Characteristic insistent fingerpicking opens "I Miss You More" -- co-written with Curreri -- but organ and percussion eventually overtake it. The lyrics smolder with loss ("I am burnt as ash from an old fire of the heart") as does the reduced-speed title refrain. The song also introduces the album's blues motif ("Lonnie Johnson," "Two Guitars to Corsicana"). Gibson's new approach offers some risk. Is it worth it? Listen to the overdubbing of voices (including guest Devon Sproule) in "We Move By Wagon Train." The aptly named "When It's Over," takes the CD out with an un-mended heart and a drunken saloon piano: "Took my mind, took my armor, took my guitar from me." But not before Gibson could make this deeply felt record. © David Kleiner

Post Jazz Mistress "Global Warming," 2011 "Global Warming" is the premiere recording by the groundbreaking Italian power trio "Post Jazz Mistress." The release showcases the inventive and eclectic guitar stylings of Osvaldo Di Dio, flanked by an innovative acoustic rhythm section featuring Vincenzo Virgillito on double bass and Antonio Fusco on percussion. Collectively the ensemble eloquently and intricately weaves jazz, rock, and world music to create their own unique sonic architecture. The opening "Listen to Me" offers huge walls of sound with bowed bass, tasteful distortion, and powerful percussion. "Greetings from Fairbanks" has a strong Metheny groove with intricate acoustic guitar layers and impassioned electric soloing by Di Dio. There is even a haunting interpretation of the Beatles iconoclastic "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." "Global Warming" is a triumphant debut by a truly inimitable collective and is highly recommended for all fans of contemporary improvised music. © James Scott

Sean McGowan "Sphere (The Music of Thelonius Monk)," 2011 On "Sphere" guitarist extraordinaire Sean McGowan offers a heartfelt homage to pianist Thelonious Monk. The recording is pristine, featuring solo-unadorned guitar without meddling overdubs and superfluous effects. McGowan eloquently weaves through Monk’s creative cannon with tasteful and tender readings of these enduring standards. On the up-tempo "We See" one hears echoes of the legendary Joe Pass in the guitarists long fluid lines and joyous comping. However, McGowan never loses focus of the angular dissonance and unique use of space that are trademarks to Monk’s unorthodox playing. On the lush ballad "Round Midnight" harp-like embellishments, intricate chord voicings, and passionate single note excursions bring new life into an iconic piece that has been recorded many times. On "Sphere" Sean McGowan has eloquently captured the essence of Monk’s artistic legacy and is a recording that will stay on my most active "playlist" long after this review is published. © James Scott

Dez Cordas "Gone Away," 2011 Folk music is the focus of the sophomore release, "Gone Away," from Dez Cordas. Matthew Slotkin (guitar) and Craig Butterfield (double bassist) have compiled an energetic and sublimely textured collection of music from four prominent composers originating from Appalachia, Spain, France and Romania respectively. "Gone Away" offers a remarkably rich and accessible listening experience emanating from only two instruments. Slotkin and Butterfield create a sonic journey that evokes rich imagery through the masterful articulation of these compositions. An expression of musicality has been captured here that is evocative and luxurious on many levels -- breathtaking and profoundly expansive in breadth. Listening to "Gone Away" inspires me to put brush to canvas! © James Filkins

Spekki Chris "Now in 3D," 2011 Spekki Chris, aka Chris Wilson, is a north London singer songwriter who performs with a three-piece backup band, and imports that sound into his 3D CD that comes complete with 3D specs. His voice bears a bit of the expressive grittiness found in that of another Englishman, David Gray. "Now in 3D" highlights an accomplished musician possessed of an innate musicality that shines through these small-ensemble arrangements. His sense of rhythmic propulsion on acoustic guitar reminds me of American Midwesterner Willie Porter. Wilson wrote all but one of the songs himself. He's an effective lyricist, creating lyrics that scan beautifully in the melody. Notable tracks include: "Shiny Star" and the jazzy "Good News Girl." Guest trumpeter Gary Jones enlivens "The Adverts" with a stand-out solo. All in all it's a balanced, enjoyable recording. © Steve Klingaman

Jim McLennan "Six-String Gumbo," 2011 Listeners might not notice at first that Canadian Jim McLennan's playing is effortless and tonally luscious, because the tunes on his collection "Six-String Gumbo" is so diverting. The title perfectly captures this zesty soup of songs, which includes both McLennan's own compositions -- like sumptuous "Mamoo's Dream" and "Prairie Rose," with their lovely chiming harmonics, and the virtuosic, zippy "Sweet Tooth" -- as well as arresting instrumental arrangements of a range of styles that spice up the broth. Covers include a slow jazzy Beatle's medley; intricate, show-stopper pieces like "Sunwheel Dance" (Bruce Cockburn) and "Drumheller Circle (Steve Bell); the bluesy traditional "Amazing Grace," and swing and ragtime numbers. McLennan has had a long career in music, playing with various bands and on recordings, so it's especially surprising that this is his first solo outing. Such exceptional fingerstyle playing and top-notch arranging well deserve guitar maven Stefan Grossman's endorsement on the cover: "hot pickin'" indeed! © Céline Keating

Nathan Bell "Black Crow Blue," 2011 Americana artist Nathan Bell's original stories are filled with bleak characters -- drifters, lonely women and guys who struggle to pay the bills. His vivid stories are told with a rough voice and sparse arrangements including a bed of acoustic guitar, wailing harmonica, sparse percussion and stabs of slide guitar. "Crow in Oklahoma" is a compelling story about "A free man in Oklahoma with nothing to lose but time." In "She Only Loves Blue" he sings of a woman who "… kept all the old album covers / they were more faithful than her old lovers." The disc ends with "We All Get Gone," a Robert Johnson style blues tune. "Sooner or later, right or wrong, we all get gone." Ain't that the truth? © Jamie Anderson

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

Si Hayden - Supercharger
Raj Rathor - Tales of Time and Eternity
Chris Moore - Renaissance
Jeffrey Hedquist - Assorted Flavors
Steve Wacker - Shadows and Grace
Robert Lloyd Davies - Home Truths
Alice DiMicele - Lucky Dogs
Michelle McAfee - Up in the Air
The Stealers - Melodies
Chris Chambers - One Fine Morning
Gus Buzbee - Atmospheric Conditions

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