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July & August 2014 Short Takes

Zoran Dukic "Balkan Muses," 2014 In these days of digital downloads, it's not often that people rush to purchase a CD, much less several, because the music simply is too exquisite and unique not to be owned and shared others. But "Balkan Muses" rises to that level. Zoran Dukic of Croatia is among the finest guitarists anywhere, and his playing is beyond exquisite. The music under the umbrella of "Balkan" is characterized by its modal language and unusual and frequent changes of meters, often played at astonishing speed. The music that Dukic has chosen for this collection were nearly all composed by guitarists and emphasize less of the folk influences of Balkan music and more of the more modern and abstract aspects, including jazz. The pieces by Dušan Bogdanovic (Belgrade) - "Six Balkan Miniatures" and "Fantasia" - are among the most technically challenging and exhilarating. The "Miniatures," each about a minute long, are compressed jewels of feeling, ranging from the limpid notes of "Lament," to the abrupt slaps of "Vranjanka" to a riot of show-stopping techniques in "Wide Song" and "Tiny-Knit Dance." "Fantasia," written for Dukic, and at five and a half minutes one of the longest, is a more complex, abstract, improvisational piece. Here Dukic's bass lines are rich and thick, while his treble notes are crisp, yet raw. "Sonata No. 1," by Atanas Ourkouzounov (Bulgaria) employs compound rhythms; Tadic's "Walk Dance" features rumbling arpeggios and feverish passages. On "Macedonian Girl" by Miroslav Tadic (Serbo-Croatia), based on a traditional Macedonian folk piece, the separate lines are so distinct that it sounds like two different guitars. "Sonata" by Vojislav Ivanovic (Sarajevo), is a tour de force among tours de force. While it follows the classical sonata form, its rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic aspects reflect jazz and Balkan influences. The album closes with "The Chase Dance" by Apostolos Paraskevas, from the Greek tradition; it will raise pulses as it races through alternating 2/8, 5/8, 6/8, and 9/8 meters. This magnificent CD does a wonderful job of exploring the music from this part of the world. Dukic has won more guitar competitions than any other guitarist. He is a virtuoso performer, but it is the perfection of his tone and the range of colors he achieves that make his playing so breathtaking. © Céline Keating

Lawrence Blatt "Emergence," 2014 "Emergence," the title of Lawrence Blatt's new CD goes beyond a track reference. It is the basic tenant and controlling idea to the structure and performance of the music presented here, a gestalt. The simplicity and lyrical quality of the brief opening "A Promise in the Woods" belies the complexity yet to come. Track after track blooms with a complex interplay between guitar and a variety of accompaniment featuring exquisitely played violin by both Lila Sklar and Charlie Bisharat. A hint of classical structure permeates these lilting and undulating musical interludes. Far more than a guitarist crafting guitar music, "Emergence" has depth and breadth that transcends musicality, flirting with spirituality. Both "Walking Among Tulips" and "The Place Where Monarchs Go" offer a window to the soul with rare musical sublimity, whilst "Passing Up Bridges" unites guitar, violin, accordion, mandolin and penny whistle in to something truly fine. Is it any wonder that Will Ackerman produced this gem? © James Filkins

Little Spencer 2014 Little Spencer is an acoustic guitar duo from Australia currently residing in the cultural mecca of Berlin. Their eponymous debut is an eclectic synthesis of many diverse styles, creating an eclectic myriad of musical landscapes. Geordie Little plays a nylon stringed flamenco in a very unorthodox way. He seamlessly alternates between brilliantly executed finger style passages and his own percussive lap slack technique. Bob Spencer, on the other hand, played in several prominent Australian Rock bands and offers impressive single note soloing and chordal accompaniment on his steel string. He selflessly compliments rather than competes with Little's impressive and innovative style. The playful "Afro Judit" features Little's intricate percussive passages graced by Spencer's bluesy riffing. The flamenco flavored "Red Plains" showcases dazzling syncopated rhythmic playing by Little and articulate minor key improvising by Spencer. The pastoral "Plant the Seed," contains lush chords, impassioned single note motifs, and elegantly performed counterpoint passages. There is a delicate and intuitive interplay between the two players that is reminiscent of John Abercrombie and Ralph Towner's seminal collaborations. The album closes with the cinematic ballad "Spiders Webb." Little Spencer has released a recording that is both innovative and alluring and is highly recommended for all listeners of new age or contemporary instrumental music. © James Scott

Keith Lykins "Shadowland," 2014 For Keith Lykins, the slap is the thing… hey, his website is even called! Like Preston Reed and Thomas Leeb, Lykins fires repeated rounds of emotion from his guitar with percussive two-handed techniques. He has even created a "drum guitar" called the DAGR9, a 9-string guitar with three doubled bass strings. His newest release "Shadowland," however, is a collection of originals performed on a simple 6-string acoustic which percolates and pops in Lykins' capable hands. "The Long Road Home" is a beautiful exception to the rule on "Shadowland" -- a melodic anthem the like of which I would love to hear interspersed more between the insistent percussion defining most of the recording. © Alan Fark

Si Hayden "The Four Seasons," 2014 There has been a long tradition of arranging various forms of instrumental music for the solo classical guitar. While oftentimes arrangers look towards repertoire with an already-guitaristic flare, occasionally they will attempt to arrange large chamber or orchestral works, pushing the boundaries of what one can do with just two hands and six strings. In this case, Si Hayden has taken on the monumental task of arranging the complete "Four Seasons" by Vivaldi for solo guitar; the first time this has ever been attempted. I approached my first listen with a measured degree of skepticism, but was treated to a lovely and unique take on these classic compositions. The works take on a fresh and charming new life when applied to the guitar, while still being satisfyingly true to the original melodies and harmonies. Occasionally Hayden employs various extended guitar techniques to achieve a desired effect, flirting with the limits of the instrument, and making for a particularly enjoyable listen for any guitarist. If you're already a fan of the original Vivaldi "Four Seasons," you will no doubt relish in this new and clever take on them. © Timothy Smith

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

Guajira - Masala
Jim Pharis - Having a Ball
Brian Smalley - Key
Tony Cox - Padkos

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