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January & February Short Takes

Axel Schultheiss "On Wings," 2009 Beginning with Windham Hill in the late 1970ís, the genre of "atmospheric" acoustic music opened up a world of possibilities for guitarists. Will Ackerman, founder of Windham Hill, created pleasing textures while playing music that didnít focus on flash, but provided listeners with an opportunity to not be dazzled but charmed. Axel Schultheiss has continued this line of atmospheric music on his CD "On Wings", attempting through his multi-tracked guitar work to lift the spirits of his listeners as they journey through his hypnotic soundscapes. Music like "On Wings" creates moods for those who listen -- at times inspiring, at times melancholy, at times a combination of the two. The tracks almost meld into one long experience, suggestive of life itself -- not a series of disconnected encounters, but an organic flow. Perhaps the most infectious melody is found in the opening cut, appropriately titled "Melody." "Morning Call" awakens our senses with an alternating groove set against a shimmering, reverberating chorus. The title track finds the music soaring in aural heights with an almost trance-like rhythm. Find yourself curled up on the couch on a gray afternoon? "On Wings" may be just the companion for that place. © Kirk Albrecht

Jon Gomm "Don't Panic," 2009 "Donít Panic," the second release from UK solo artist Jon Gomm, covers a breadth of sonic territory ranging from the Rory Gallagher tinged acoustic blues of "Surrender" to John Mayer like "Gloria" as well as fret adventures reminiscent of Billy McLaughlin like "Temporary" or the Antoine Dufor-ish groove of "Topeka". Every note of "Donít" Panic is delivered with an enthusiasm, passion and a contagious sense of spontaneity that is uniquely Jon Gomm. Check him out on Youtube and you will marvel his adroit dexterity. What sucked me in were the textures, grooves and structure of his tunes. Did I mention he sings with all the same exceptional qualities that imbue his fret work? This CD is guaranteed to knock you out of any listening rut! (Warning: "Gloria" contains an instance of profanity that may catch you off guard... It did me) © James Filkins

Adam Brown "The Rebels Within," 2009 Adam Brown's debut disc is a collection of classical guitar works which serve to highlight his talent as a musician as well as his appreciation for the evolution of classical music in the twentieth century. The centrepiece of the CD is the haunting and evocative "Nocturnal" by Benjamin Britten. This work is as beautiful as it is brilliant, and Brown carefully constructs an interpretation that honours Britten's artistic statement. The other works which Brown has selected complement "Nocturnal" by being harmonically and thematically similar, offering a satisfying thread throughout the entire recording. Brown has introduced himself as a skilled guitarist deeply entrenched in the classical tradition, and I look forward to hearing more from him in the future. © Timothy Smith

Ayres 2009 It is always interesting to hear fresh combinations of guitar with other stringed instruments, and "Ayres" is a dynamic offering from the guitar of Julio Azcano and baglama of Taylan Arikan. (for those not aware of the baglama, it is the Anatolian lute with a long thin neck and small teardrop-shaped body). "Ayres" is an aural exploration the limits of space between the percussive nylon-string guitar and the whining of the baglama. The definition of "Ayres" on the CD booklet -- in the space between even and uneven -- captures much of the spirit of this music. Each song is a testament to not only Azcanoís and Arikanís virtuosity, but their musical sensibilities. Like in flamenco or jazz, the pair take a theme with each tune and run with it, playing in and out of the melody. What do we call this music? Jazz? New music? No label is needed to appreciate what they do with their instruments in creating landscapes and textures that need more than one listen to unravel. Some tunes, like "Aygiz" give a more traditional feel, while others like "Katch Ma" explore synergistic realms where categories become blurred by the sheer power of the playing. "Distancias" is the longest track on the CD, where these two masters have a chance to twist and turn in their explorations of melody and harmony, point and counterpoint. For those who like fine stringed instrument playing, "Ayres" is an excellent offering. © Kirk Albrecht

Thanos Mitsalas "Music by Sergio Assad," 2009 Although most classical guitar enthusiasts know Sergio Assad as one half of the legendary Assad Brothers Duo, in recent years his solo guitar compositions have been garnering attention from performers and concert goers alike. His music is a unique blend of South American melodies backed occasionally by risquť contemporary harmonies. It is this music that makes up the debut CD of Greek guitarist Thanos Mitsalas. The fluid and expressive nature of Assad's works leave plenty of room for unique interpretation, and Mitsalas takes full advantage of this. Instead of simply reciting the compositions according to Assad's directions, there is a true sense that Mitsalas wanted to use the works as a medium for his own artistic statement. While it may be Assad's notes, the music is undoubtedly coming from Mitsalas. He delicately phrases the characteristic Latin melodies and effortlessly navigates the technically challenging passages. Although young, Mitsalas' musicianship is remarkably mature, and this disc serves as an excellent introduction to this budding guitarist. © Timothy Smith

Willy Dalton & The Seraphim String Quartet "Riverwalk," 2009 The ground where folk music intersects with classical was perhaps first visited by George Gershwin in 1924 with the debut of "Rhapsody in Blue." Some have since questioned whether the natural spontaneity of jazz comes off as too contrived when scored for classical instruments as Gershwin did with "Rhapsody." Willy Dalton, on his CD "Riverwalk," proves that this criticism doesn't hold when fingerstyle music is scored to be paired with that of a string quartet. Supported through a grant from The Urban History Initiative, "Riverwalk" includes five short, but ingenious, tracks which remind us that fingerstyle and classical idioms are branches from the same heritage, and which commingle very naturally. "Ducks on the Water" and "The 4th of July" especially evoke the pastoral polytonality of Darius Milhaud's works. © Alan Fark

Threefifty Duo "Circles," 2009 Threefifty Duo is Geremy Schulick and Brett Parnell, two classical players who studied with the renowned guitarist Benjamin Verdery at the Yale School of Music. On "Circles" they feature their own compositions, which blend some classical constructions with vernacular acoustic traditions. Their take on the repertoire is guitaristic; the compositional integrity of their pieces is highly tailored to the guitar. In some respects they favor Steve Reich in their use of repetition and rhythm, driven home with percussive impetus, for example on "Mina at the Monkey." They incorporate elegant passages of traditional lyricism into the mix in selections like "Victory Drill" and "Touch the Ground." The CD was beautifully produced by classical guitar hero Dominic Frasca. Expect to hear more from these two talented genre benders. © Steve Klingaman

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

Yukari Roja - Ai no Uta "Live"
Katie Evans - A Passing Afternoon
Ariana Gillis - To Make it Make Sense
Brother Lou - As Good as You Want
Bella Ruse
Geoff Hansplant - Pilgrim's Progress
Sonic Bridge - American Dream
Matt Richards - One in Mind
Wrinkle Neck Mules - Let the Lead Fly


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