Monday May 01, 2006

72 Years of Jazz Guitar in 3 Days



I was recently in New York City and of course wanted to take in some jazz. The first stop was the Iridium to see Les Paul, the 90 year old wonder who is credited with inventing the solid body electric guitar (among other things). I'd heard that he'd been ill and in the hospital, and it was great to see him recovered and back on the stage. It made me think, too, that there might not be many more chances to see him in person.

It was a lot of fun. Of course he doesn't blaze up and down the strings like he did 50 years ago, but he had a fine group around him and his presence was magical. He also displayed quite the sense of humor (replete with more than a tad of sexual innuendo!). My kids came with us and asked me afterwards if "all" jazz shows are like that. The answer is definitely not, but it was pretty awesome seeing a true legend, and I think even the kids'll appreciate it some day (they're not that young).

A few days later, the next stop was Birdland to see Gary Burton Generations featuring Julian Lage on the guitar. Back a long time ago, I was lead guitarist in a fusion jazz band in Boston managed by Ted Kurland who also managed Gary Burton at the time. (Gary and Ted have continued to have awesome careers as true leaders in their field. As for me, I got a "day job" a long time ago, though I can still play the guitar at least!)  Anyway, Ted booked our band several times as opening act for Gary Burton concerts, so I had the chance to admire his incredible talent up close. I hadn't seen him since, and I can tell you he is still the master of the vibes and a true joy to watch. But I also went to see Julian. I'd heard tales of this prodigy guitarist coming out of Santa Rosa (just north of the Bay Area where I live), and when I saw he was playing with Gary Burton, I was there.

Julian is 18, a mere 72 years younger than Les (and thus the clever title of this posting). And Julian is burning. He was not over-hyped. He has phenomenal technique and an original style of jazz that seems to be his own, incorporating all sorts of influences -- classical music, older swing type playing, and more recent influences that reminded me at times of Kurt Rosenwinkel and Bill Frisell. Those comparisons are weak, though -- they don't do him justice.

Julian had a great smile while he played and just made the viewer feel happy and involved. He was also very polite when I spoke with him between sets. He said he's off to Berklee College of Music to study film scoring -- I don't think he has to worry much about learning to play the guitar any better! I'd give him an A+. Check him out when you get the chance.

Saturday Oct 15, 2005

George Brooks Summit at Yoshis

I hang out at Yoshis a lot -- what a great jazz club! (Easy parking, great Japanese food, and an intimate, clean sounding room with no bad seats.) I almost (but not always) go to see guitarists, and last Saturday night (October 8) was no exception.

Fareed Haque first came to my attention on one of my favorite Latin jazz recordings of all time, Paquito D'Rivera's Reunion. The second cut, Reunion, is simply brilliant -- incredible solos by Paquito, Arturo Sandoval, and Fareed. If you like that kind of music, get that CD by all means -- you won't be sorry! In reading through Yoshi's calendar, I saw that Fareed was playing with the George Brooks Summit, so I went. Frankly, I wasn't at all familiar with George Brooks. I looked at his site and was a little leery when I read about the heavy Indian influence. I like Indian music on its own but generally prefer my jazz straight ahead. But it's good to try new things, and I am so glad I went.

Brooks is an excellent composer and the tunes were pretty magical, jazz with a heavy (but not overwhelming) Indian influence. The mix really worked, and the band was exceptionally tight, whether playing 4/4 or more challenging 15/8 rhythms. The rhythm section (Kai Eckhardt on bass and Steve Smith on drums) were solid and blended brilliantly with the amazing playing of tabla master Zakir Hussain.

Fareed did not disappoint. He has incredible technical skills on both the electric and amplified acoustic guitar. (He's supposed to be a heck of a classical guitarist as well.)  He drifted between blazing jazz riffs and burning Indian scales and tonalities, combining for a unique sound. You could say that about the whole band -- a really unique sound propelled at the audience by a super tight band of exceptional musicians. Makes for a great night of entertainment!

Monday Oct 03, 2005

Ximo Tebar plays a mean guitar

My favorite music is jazz, and especially jazz guitar. Thanks to the wonders of the 'net, I have discovered many great jazz guitarists I'd never heard of before. This is a mixed blessing -- it really is exciting to make discoveries and learn about new players. At the same time, it can be overwhelming (typical Internet information overload) as well as humbling to realize how many great musicians are out there! I'm happy to take the opportunity here to share some of my "discoveries" as I happen upon them.

I heard just a snippet of a guitar solo on the radio somewhere recently and managed to catch the name "Ximo". It was enough to get my attention, so I tracked him down and bought an album by guitarist Ximo Tebar. Ximo is from Spain, in his early 40's, and plays a mean guitar!!

I had to take a long drive over the weekend so popped in his CD and got to really listen closely to the album, Goes Blue, an organ trio recording in the classic tradition of Jimmy Smith/Wes Montgomery and many others. (I do some of my best listening in the car -- I'm fortunate to have a good sound system and there're no distractions like I find around the house.)

I was really impressed. You can hear the obvious influences of the "big three" modern jazz guitarists (in my opinion, of course) -- Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Pat Martino -- intermixed with some really nice creative original touches as well as subtle influences from his European and Spanish heritage. So if you like great jazz guitar, check out Ximo!

About

I helped design, build, and manage download systems at Sun for many years. Recently I've focused on web eMarketing systems. Occasionally, I write about other interests, such as holography and jazz guitar. Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/garyzel

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