Finally sitting down and writing…

… after a brief hiatus. I know I made a determination to post here regularly (weekly) — I have had several nights when I sit down, open the program and cannot put my ideas into words. Either the whole thing resembles a rant of some sort or it’s a collection of incomplete sentences and nebulous phrases. Rather than post something that I’ll want to take back by the next morning I don’t post at all. I have seen some blogs and discussions that leave me scratching my head, wondering why they went public in the first place.

Matt Richards and Katherine Barbato perform at Dalet Gallery, Philadelphia PA 11/16/12.

Friday evening marked the public premier of my acoustic duo with flutist Katherine Barbato here in Philadelphia. We have performed previously at the Philadelphia International Airport (which is a public place, but not technically open to the general public) and for a private event, but this was a focused concert. Much to my surprise, we featured quite a bit of my own original material. Simply put, it was a blast.

Katherine is a great playing partner. She is willing to dive in and try things  which has led me to take my approach to accompaniment with the guitar in a different direction. In fact, quite a few spontaneous moments occurred on Friday evening that were totally unique — I played musical ideas I never played before, that brought things out in Katherine’s playing that were new and interesting.

The most unique thing I have discovered is how I can minimize what I play when I accompany her while I still maintain the structure and flow of the piece. While I do refer to Ralph Towner‘s playing as a great example of how to play in a duet setting, I didn’t find myself emulating his style as much as I was building upon it.  To be honest, my own solos on several pieces did not work out the way I hoped — some of that is due to the material which is not easy to play in improvisational settings. Much of it is also due to my own approach and my attempt to keep ‘all of the balls in the air’ and not let the energy and flow fall away. Too often I hear great jazz guitarists perform unaccompanied and, after playing a breathtaking chord melody of the tune, their solo consists of a lot of  single lines punctuated by occasional chord fills that don’t do much to solidly maintain the flow of the music. While it can be neat for one or two tunes, it becomes a guitar player’s niche-sort of thing that requires the listener to rely on musical imagination that they may not have unless they are players.

I am by no means proclaiming any superiority with my approach — quite the contrary, it’s a work in progress. But I like the overall effect in the music when it works…. and it’s been working more and more. The guitar has the ability to be played much like a piano, and the structure of a piece can be maintained while improvising over the chord changes once you have the focus and the technique to do it. Fingerstyle technique allows you to do this, to be sure, but you need to develop a mental ability to split your focus while still coordinating it — and that takes time.

Now that I’ve gone off on a tangent…. Let me get back to relating that the concert was a success. We made some great music together Friday evening and attracted quite a lot of new listeners (and now, hopefully, fans). We did record audio and video and I will be sitting down this week to review the files. (I always give them some breathing room after a performance so I can forget the ‘rough spots’ and hear things with ‘fresh ears’.) We feature a great deal of improvisation in our repertoire and even take up the classical tradition with a modified Shubert waltz that gets jazz-ed. Once I’ve finished anguishing unnecessarily over the tracks I’ll decide if they’re up to snuff for public consumption.

I also had the opportunity to perform another duet on Sunday with locally-based vocalist Arlyn Wolter at a Buddhist event. We did a rubato version of All My Loving (Lennon & McCartney, of course) which was a knockout. Arlyn is fabulous with a great sense of musicality and a stunning voice. While she’s best-known for her bluesy sojourns with the Dukes of Destiny she has a wide expanse of talent that she draws upon. I hope to do more music with her in the near-future.

Now that I’ve gotten a third wind when I should actually be asleep it would be good time to practice.

Hasta Pronto!

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