Album Review – Solo Flight: The Music of Django Reinhardt & Lenny Breau

Hello readers! I have the very first cab off of the 2017 review rank here for you today (and I’ve got more lined up already for the next couple of months!).

Today’s review has somewhat of jazzy flavour, a flavour that’s always so nice to mix up into the classical stuff. Solo Flight: The Music of Django Reinhardt & Lenny Breau is the debut solo album from New York City-based classical guitarist J.P. McShane and features ten new arrangements for classical guitar.

Who is J.P. McShane?

J.P. McShane is a classical guitarist located in New York City. He has performed with LoftOpera Brooklyn, Contemporaneous and Ensemble Mise-en . He has premiered dozens of new works by composers from around the world including Laurie Spiegel (USA), Vedran Mehinovic (Bosnia) and Yoon-Ji Lee (South Korea). He was the winner of the Solo Juried Recital at the 2012 Guitar Foundation of America Regional Symposium held in New York City and has studied classical guitar with Metropolitan Opera’s guitarist and lutenist, Frederic Hand, and Turkish guitar virtuoso, Mesut Özgen. J.P. holds a Bachelors of Music with a minor in Jazz from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a Masters of Music in Classical Guitar Performance from Mannes College The New School for Music.

J.P. currently teaches at the New York Conservatory of Music, located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and at the Fort Lee School of Music in Bergen County New Jersey.

Not too shabby a guitarist then!

About Solo Flight: The Music of Django Reinhardt & Lenny Breau

The first five tracks are arrangements based off improvisations by jazz guitarist Lenny Breau. It includes compositions by Henry Mancini (Days of Wine and Roses), McCoy Tyner (Vision), Luiz Bonfá (Batucada), and two Lenny Breau originals (Celtic Dream Stream and New York City).

Grammy award-winning classical guitarist and composer Andrew York studied jazz guitar with Lenny Breau as a graduate student at the University of Southern California in the early 1980s. York provides a personal reflection of his time working with Lenny for the CD and mp3 liner notes (Lenny Breau was tragically murdered in 1984 and his death remains unsolved to this day).

The second half of Solo Flight features five improvisations by Django Reinhardt, recorded by the legendary guitarist between 1937 and 1945. The pieces contain a healthy dose of romanticism in addition to Django Reinhardt’s signature hot jazz style. Interestingly enough, Improvisation No. 2 is the only piece Django Reinhardt is known to have recorded finger style and without a pick. These pieces were arranged by J.P. with the classical guitarist in mind and are presented as a single work comprised of five movements titled 5 Improvisations by Django Reinhardt.

Solo Flight: The Music of Django Reinhardt & Lenny Breau was recorded, mixed and mastered by Graig Janssen at Mercy Sound Studios, New York, NY, in the summer of 2016 and produced by J.P. McShane and Graig Janssen. All music was transcribed and arranged for the classical guitar by J.P. McShane. J.P. has even produced sheet music for those wanting to play it for themselves!

The Review

It’s clear from the outset on this recording that J.P. is no slouch at all and plays with a delicious tone and intensely keen sense of phrasing. He really “owns” this music and plays it with a sense and style of his own without it feeling like a copy or pastiche of the original.

Album opener Days of Wine & Roses is a great way to set the tone and flavour of the recording. Beautiful harmonics, beautiful tone and what sounds to be an innate sense of timing in the phasing. So lovely.

Vision is a more upbeat offering presented on steel string, with a driving drone bass, played full steam ahead into Batucada. I love the samba dance feel of this piece, which J.P. really brings to the fore. I particularly love the percussive elements in this piece – expert execution that conjures aural images of a kalimba (African thumb harp).

Celtic Dream Stream does have an almost dream-like quality to it – dream stream sums it up well. And J.P. delivers on the intent of the music, he really has this music under his skin and is not afraid to communicate to the audience that intent in all its lush harmonic richness in a very musically sensitive way.

New York City (which features Jaclyn Taylor on vocals) has some more simple (or more simple-sounding which is an art form in itself!) guitar, but no less lovely and no less expertly played. J.P. harmonics are just the best!

My favourite track (or tracks) on this recording has to be the Five Improvisations – and it’s really hard to pick a favourite Improvisation! These are all played with a virtuosic sense of the style. In spite of saying it was hard to pick a favourite from the five, Improvisation No. 2 would probably have to be up there – lovely fluid, lyrical melodies, with just the most delectably placed descending chords that sound so sweet on J.P.’s steel string guitar.

Check out this clip of J.P. playing Improvisation No. 2 (on regular classical nylon string which sounds just beautiful):

For those of you who like a wee bit of something a wee bit jazzy then I suggest you get your hands on a copy of Solo Flight. This is seriously awesome offering from J.P. McShane as his debut recording – accomplished, subtle and musically intelligent musicality paired with an equally accomplished, sensitively virtuosic playing.

Take a look at this page of J.P. McShane’s website to check out how you can get your hands on your own copy right now!

 

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