Here’s a quick rundown on the CD-based music that served as accompaniment for my behind-the-wheel time during the past week-and -a-half.
It seems I somehow defaulted to an all-acoustic playlist to begin the month.
Bach Concertos – Xuefeif Yang – if you follow me on FaceBook or other social networks where I show up you are probably aware that I am a champion (possibly fan) of this wonderful guitarist. (My thanks to Adrian Legg for the introduction.) She is undeniably one of the finest classical guitarists around, playing with not only technical skill and ability but with feeling and emotion. This particular recording is mostly a collaboration of guitar and string quartet. It is superbly performed and recorded. The arrangements are her own and offer an example of the possibilities of guitar as an integral component of a traditional string ensemble. In addition, she performs two solo pieces on 7-string classical guitar that are truly sublime.
A Closer View – Ralph Towner & Gary Peacock – this is essentially part two of their collaboration when combined with their first recording Oracle. That in no way diminishes the music on this second chapter of Ralph & Gary. Towner plays a classical guitar on most tracks and twelve-string on two (if I recall correctly) and the rapport these two players have is magnificent. Ralph does feature two solo performances (one of which is a stunning version of Toledo), both of which fit perfectly in the programming. It’s not the usual II/V/I turnaround jazz standards by any means — of course, with these two artists you wouldn’t expect that. Performances are enhanced by the stellar production that ECM is famed for. In a recent interview, Towner discussed his various collaborations and mentioned his duo with Gary Peacock to be one of his favorites. (After several listenings, I went through my iPhone address book searching through the bassists I have on file, with some fresh ideas about my duo. This happens every time I listen to this.)
Luzia – Paco de Lucia – Paco has been a favorite of mine since I had front row seats for the McLaughlin/DiMeola/Paco guitar trio (too many) years ago. I have several other albums by him and his usual collaborators. I must sadly report this is not his best work. In fact, I would advise against obtaining this release if you don’t have any of his others. It is unfocused, almost free-form Flamenco, and while the techniques and aspects of the genre are very much in evidence, the music itself doesn’t deliver anything that sticks with you other than his technique. Paco wanders through a variety of ideas on each track, but never seems to settle in and explore any one of them. While Flamenco music is improvisational and very much based on the duende or spirit that drives it, this music never rises into a temperate heat. The recording quality also has a lot of ups and downs, with distinctly differing mastering and EQ that contrasts too much from track to track.
Three Guitars – Larry Coryell, Badi Assad, John Abercrombie – this is a great acoustic guitar trio project by two modern jazz musical innovators and a fantastically talented guitarist/vocalist. Each artist is in top musical form. While there are two (I believe) duets on the release, the bulk of the music is arranged for these three musicians and they all play magnificently. Their individual skills are apparent, but their ability to work as an ensemble to what really sets the music on this CD apart from other multi-guitar projects. My only criticism, and it is minor, is that I find the mastering to be somewhat ‘lite’ — the overall level is quieter with less presence than most acoustic recordings. It does provide an uncluttered mix, though I think some of the dynamics are lost. Of course, given the performances and music that’s not a reason to pass this by. If you’re expecting an acoustic shred-fest, look elsewhere — in fact, Badi provides kalimba and amazing vocals/vocalise to a number of tracks, so virtuosity, while in abundance, is evident through the quality of the performances.