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July & August 2013 Short Takes

Minneapolis Guitar Quartet "Thrum," 2013 The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet has a longstanding tradition as one of the premiere guitar ensembles. The group has always sought out new and innovative works for guitar. "Thrum" is no exception. From the opening work, "Ghetto Strings" by Haitian-born composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, we are treated to an intriguing character work which gives us a glimpse of life in 4 diverse locations. This is followed by a beautifully melodic 3 movement work, "Thrum," by David Evan Thomas. "Cinema Castaneda" by Von Stiefel follows. This 10 movement work is captivating. Using influences as diverse as Aaron Copeland, The Doors, Velvet Underground, Chuck Berry, and Curt Cobain the work never disappoints. The last work "Guangxi Impressions" composed by Gao Hong pushes some interesting boundaries with its use of timbre and rhythmic effects. The performances are great throughout. © Philip Hemmo

JL Stiles "House of Murmurs," 2012 Few musical artists are brave enough to create an album predominantly focused on death. However, singer/songwriter/composer JL Stiles takes his low-fi gem, "Song Beside My Grave," and uses it as a springboard into a quiet exploration into existence. The 11-song collection of originals, though reflective, hearkens back to popular folk, pop and psychedelia of the '60s. It's an album to sit back, soak in and actively listen to. Stiles' well-crafted songs reveal a surprising maturity in both subject matter and melody. I would have liked to hear more of his guitar work, as his jazzy, bluesy lead on "Beneath The Light" only serves to whet the appetite. © Fred Kraus

Pedrick Bitts Walker "Three," 2012 David Pedrick's "Three" is a completely improvised recording featuring acoustic guitar, bass, and drums. Pedrick earned his Master's in Classical Guitar Performance from West Chester University and is a prominent educator, writer, and performer. His compositions have been featured on NPR and the BBC. Joining this multifaceted guitarist are Mike Bitts on double bass and Aaron Walker on percussion. This is perhaps one of the most accessible recordings of collective improvisations heard to date. The delicate and intuitive interplay between the three is extraordinary. The unrehearsed first take compositions are surprisingly coherent and cohesive. This is a true egalitarian trio with each member given equal opportunity to contribute to the improvised pieces. For example, Walker's fiery percussion is prominently featured on the Bo Diddley inspired "Four," while Bitt's fluid bass is showcased on "Two." Pedrick's acoustic is both precise and pristine and is an amalgamating presence throughout the session. "Three" is an excellent example of how collective improvisation can really work at creating music that is moving, adventurous, and accessible. This album is highly recommended. © James Scott

Gjermund Titlestad "Map of the World," 2013 Gjermund Titlestad found inspiration for his first solo album via a lovely work by Pat Metheny entitled "Map of the World". Much like Metheny's composition, this recording guides the listener through a journey, in this case starting in Titlestad's home country of Norway, then heading West to North and South America, after which we travel across the pacific to Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and finally ending where it began, in Norway. It was important to Titlestad that the works he selected would not only highlight the musical and virtuosic aspects of the classical guitar, but would also appeal to a large and varied audience. The result is a warm and welcoming collection of both well-known and lesser-known works that gracefully guide the listener along this global voyage. Expect no turbulence or rough seas in your travels, and each host country offers a pleasant yet revealing glimpse into their art and culture. All the while, Titlestad is your guide, competently navigating each piece, displaying a deep understanding of the vastly varying styles and techniques. Aside from Metheny's "Map of the World", I was also quite taken by the two Norwegian works, both of which I hadn't heard before. Another highlight was Titlestad's refreshing interpretation of Domeniconi's "Koyunbaba." This disc offers beautiful playing as well as a gorgeous and varied selection of works that everyone will find appealing, so I recommend you take a listen and join Titlestad on his journey around the world. © Timothy Smith

Brian Henke "Seven Magic Spells," 2012 Fans of Brian Henke's absorbing, expressive and intoxicating acoustic compositions will revel in his aptly titled 7th release "Seven Magic Spells." With fretwork that is alternately poetic, symphonic and balletic in breadth and depth, Henke truly creates magic with his custom double neck harp guitar and a Larrivee LC-09. Compositionally, Henke creates a sonic journey worthy of a mythological hero. It begins with a sense of unfulfilled longing in "Good Morning Gypsy Moon" and wanders through one sweeping musical adventure after another, some pastoral ("Magic Spell #1:Breath In, Breath Out"), others fraught with danger ("Magic Spell #3:Fire In The Dark"), only to resolve in the idyllic and peaceful "Magic Spell # 7: Floating". "Seven Magic Spells" mesmerizes with a sense of gestalt similar to a concerto. Remarkably, Henke is the instrumentalist and the orchestra in one. © James Filkins

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

Shai Sebbag - 1001 Nuits
Kim Simpson - Yours All the Way
Branco Stoysin - Alone
Brian Smalley - Chickens Pigs

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