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May & June Short Takes

Mary Flower "Bridges," 2009 Mary Flower has a nice way of making the blues just sound so darn good. With her warm, husky contralto and a keen ear for infectious melodies, Flower’s blues-based "Bridges" rolls out like a meandering river. The 14-track collection features pleasantly interwoven elements of folk, gospel, country, jazz and roots music. Much of her work on seems to "Bridges" seems to hearken back to a different, less complicated era. You’ll hear accordion, clarinet, string bass, washboard and, perhaps most distinctive, tuba. Flower writes or co-writes six songs here, including four instrumentals, where her prize-winning fingerstyle guitar and lap slide guitar work is featured. Along the way, Flower turns in fine renditions of Big Bill Broonzy’s wonderful "Big Bill Blues" and Hoagy Carmichael’s 1930 classic "Up A Lazy River" (with special guest Tim O’Brien shining on fiddle). Another standout, this from the 1920s, is Flower’s take on Bessie Smith’s "Backwater Blues." The piano work of Janie Scroggins and Mark Vehrencamp’s tuba also deserve mention. Flower has been writing and performing for more than 30 years, mostly in Colorado, though she recently relocated to Oregon. "Bridges" is her first CD in Portland. Her whimsical "Portland Town" would seem to indicate she likes her new digs just fine. Think an earthier, mellower Bonnie Raitt, and you’re on the right track. This diverse and reflective collection deserves a wide audience. © Fred Kraus

Evan Hirschelman "Water in Darkness," 2008 Guitar music lovers will recognize many techniques here on Evan Hirschelman’s latest CD, "Water in Darkness" -- tapping, string bends, and slap harmonics. However, those techniques usually accompany steel string guitar music. Hirschelman takes on these varied tone-producing techniques on his resonant David Daily classical, along with more traditional tones. The results are an eclectic mix of aural images that at once delight and then confound the listener. "Homage to Michael Hedges" is just what the title says -- a nylon string, two-handed symphony honoring some of the cutting edge directions Hedges took guitar music, with abrupt meter changes and an almost infinite tonal palette all in the same work. Few guitarists have the chops to pull off this stuff, and for many listeners, its technical level may render it a bit inaccessible. Hirschelman includes Scott Tennant on two duets ("Slap Interlude" and Nagoya Guitars"), and pays his respects to Roland Dyens with his suite of pieces "Libra Sonatine" (comprised of "India", "Largo", and "Fuoco"), expressing the process of heart surgery Dyens endured. Hirschelman plays each with power and style. The title cut, "Water in Darkness", is perhaps the most contemplative piece of the disc, floating then rising, only to fall in harmonic stillness. It’s not Segovia, baby, but Evan Hirschelman continues to expand the range of classical guitar. © Kirk Albrecht

Bebo Ferra & Paolino Dalla Porta "Aria," 2006 "Aria" is an achingly beautiful collection of duets between nylon-string guitar and double-bass, performed by Bebo Ferra and Paolino Dalla Porta. Fans of Italian jazz trumpeter Paolo Fresu may recognize these names as the core players behind Fresu's "Devil Quartet" which has recently recorded on Blue Note Records. The comparisons to Ralph Towner and Gary Peacock's duets on ECM, "Oracle" and "A Closer View," are inevitable, but apt. The compositions and performance are that good. © Alan Fark

Jérôme Mouffe "Capriccio," 2009 Jerome Mouffe comes out blazing on his debut CD "Capriccio", rendering a blistering Caprice 5 by Paganini. If he opens his concerts with this gymnastic exercise, it would be a true "wow!" moment. It is the same on this CD of early nineteenth century Italian virtuoso pieces from Paganini, Regondi, Legnani, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco. Mouffe, a Belgian studying for his doctorate under the tutelage of Eliot Fisk, puts to rest early on the recording any doubts about his technical ability, handling with apparent ease the finger-busting Caprice 5. His playing is crisp, precise, and clean throughout the 10 selections. As the disc unfolds, Mouffe continues to dazzle with technique, but also gives the listener sensitivity and charm in pieces that aren’t so flaming. On Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s magnificent "Capriccio Diabolico", Mouffe demonstrates great control of color and dynamics, while yet again easily handling rapid arpeggios. Regondi’s "Fantasia, Op. 19" displays all the passion and mood swings the piece presents, with elegance. In the concluding 3 Caprices by Legnani, Mouffe weaves a spell on the listener through Caprice 15, paints a somber tone with Caprice 22, and ends with a lively rendition of Caprice 7. Jerome Mouffe is a young guitarist with prodigious talents, and it is safe to say he has surpassed his mentor Fisk in most every way, to the delight of this listener. © Kirk Albrecht

Yamandu Costa "Mafua," 2008 Brazilian Yamandu Costa’s first solo project has him playing instrumentals on a 7-string guitar -- a nylon-string model with a low bass string. Costa anchors his music in older traditions of samba, choro, and tango, and approaches them with astounding skill and energy. There’s a lot happening in his arrangements, including syncopated chord fragments, rhythmic shifts, and strong melodies, sometimes supported by Yamandu’s vocals and whistling. Yet Costa renders his music so effortlessly that it’s easy to overlook his monstrous technique, and, come to think of it, there’s no better standard for musical success. The CD is well-paced, opening with "El Negro de Blanco", followed by the pensive "Elodie", and continuing with similar light/dark contrasts throughout (although the overall positive sound of Costa’s music renders any moodiness quite relative). Kudos to Peter Finger for exposing Costa to a wider audience with this solid offering. © Patrick Ragains

Gill Holdsworth "Shooting Star," 2009 This CD of all original songs by Gill Holdsworth -- her first full-length recording -- offers listeners some well-executed tunes with simple but crafty melodies. Holdsworth plays cleanly and never tries to overplay or dazzle with technique, always refreshing. I think she works hard to paint aural landscapes that capture the mood of her titles; maybe she just writes good song names. "Shooting Star", the title cut, caught me tapping my toe to the lilting melody swung in the trebles while the bass line drove along. Holdsworth employs some jazz chops on "Thoughts of Summer", a light and airy piece, almost playful at times -- just like summer. "Autumn Rain" drops on us like a good soaking. "Darkest Before the Dawn", begins in the heavy shadows, but opens up to shine light and hope. "Cecilia" captures perhaps the essence of this CD -- it’s just pleasant guitar music played well. There is a lot to like about "Shooting Star". For some reason, her guitar has a strong piezo "quack" (like many under-saddle pickups), and unlike many good guitar recordings, does not carry a very natural sound, which should be improved on her next go-round. We hope to hear more of Gill Holdsworth. © Kirk Albrecht

Eddy & the Esoteriks "Music From the House With Four Chimneys," 2008 Erik Satie was an iconoclast of the late 19th century whose music influenced the avant-garde movements embraced by Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Milhaud. Satie's melodies were often mournful and simplistic, and found modern-day fans among such artists as Frank Zappa and John Cage. Ed Eastridge is another (albeit, less well-known) contemporary admirer of Satie who here has assembled a collection of Satie compositions adapted to acoustic guitar, with the help of some very talented musical friends. Eastridge's project is fascinating and flawlessly executed, but runs the risk of suffering the same fate of the composer - disinterest from the masses. Satie might say "maybe that's a good thing." © Alan Fark

Daniel Park "These Illusions," 2007 Jangling guitarwork, crystal-clear production and solid pop-rock songwriting inform Daniel Park's work. His path to singer-songwriter excellence has not been typical: Korean-born, tutored on violin since age 7, and an engineering student in college. But Park's right brain won out, judging by the sing-along infectiousness of the hooks on "These Illusions." © Alan Fark

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

Sándor Szabó & Kevin Kastning - Parabola
Mark Nomad - Acoustic Land
Jason Williams - Homenaje
Thomas Handy - Storybook
Emith - 13 Seasons
Greg Herriges - Telluric Currents
Garrison Doles - Whenever I'm With You
Kesang Marstrand - Bodega Rose
Straw Dogs - Love and then Hope
Carla Seidl - Under My Skin
Tiffany Garrett - Back to the Water
Lester Quitzau - The Same Light
Just Blue - Below the Damage
Helen Avakian - I Love the Moon
Native Son - Sunrise
My Sweet Patootie - Nowheresville
Vayo - Tango Classicos Y Tangos
Mateus Starling - Kairos

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