Album Review – Enchanted Guitar Forest by Alex Lubet & Maja Radovanlija

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Once again I have been highly privileged to sit and listen to some wonderful original music – this time with a bit of an Eastern European flavour – presented by some equally wonderful guitarists.

But before I leap in to the review, some info for you on who these wonderful guitarists are

Alex Lubet

A native of Chicago, composer, multi-instrumentalist, author, and educator Alex Lubet has lived in Minnesota since 1979.  While having written works in many idioms, he has long devoted himself principally to performing his own music, as a solo acoustic guitarist and in collaboration with artists including Maja Radovanlija, Swiss free jazz pianist Guerino Mazzola, and his wife, taiko and fue (Japanese drums and horizontal flute) player Iris Shiraishi.  In addition to guitars and ukuleles, Alex plays electric and double bass and mountain dulcimer. Alex has received hundreds of performances of his works on six continents.  His album Spectral Blues:  New Music for Acoustic Guitar (Ravello) received unanimously excellent reviews in the US, Italy, and Brazil.  Well known critic and author Ted Gioia named it a “Best Album of 2013.”  Alex joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota in 1979.

Alex plays a Taylor guitar, a National Steel Guitar, and a Kamaka ukulele.

Maja Radovanlija

A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Maja Radovanlija received her initial training at the University of Belgrade, with graduate studies at Indiana University.  She was won several awards and competitions, including second prize at the Petar Konjevic International Competition in Belgrade.  A student of early music, Latin American music, and jazz, Maja began composing and performing her own works in graduate school.  She is distinguished by her passion for improvisation, rare among classical guitarists.  Having performed widely in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and throughout the US, Maja is a member of the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet and often performs in the US with (among many) ImprovIsAn’Do and Improvised Ecosystems; in Belgrade with the ImprovE Collective, and with Hungarian violist/composer Szilard Mezei.  Maja has taught guitar at the University of Minnesota since 2011.

Maja plays a double top guitar, made in West Branch, Iowa by luthier John H. Dick.

The Review – What Did I Think?

The title of the recording Enchanted Guitar Forest is a pretty spot-on one actually. The whole recording really does have a light, ethereal, and slightly musical quality to it. Not that I normally like to compare artists with one another as all are different and uniquely special in their own ways, but this reminds me somewhat of a Johannes Möller recording (albeit with a lot of steel string guitar, which incidentally really lends itself to this music and is quite colourful in a way that I’ve not heard too much from our steel string cousins) in that mystical, lyrical and thought-provoking manner.

So what about the pieces on the recording? Shallow go with my favourite track? Always a good one to start with. Let’s just say I bloody love Los Bibilicos – all melancholic, sultry, Spanish-inflected minor pentatonics, and the most wonderfully expressive tremolo playing, sensitive little tambour touches and etouffé muted playing, and the sweetest, dolce harmonics. A delicious piece most definitely worth tasting. An utterly mesmerising piece of music that I’ve listened to several times over, on repeat.

Up there next for me would have to be Ein Keilheinu, a fantastic piece (the opening passage of which comes from a synagogue hymn) with the steel guitar to the fore, a lulling Eastern melody, and wonderful nylon string arpeggios supporting in the background. This piece is beautifully enchanting; a colourful guitar forest I’d be happy to wander in and around for a while.

Also worth a mention is the nostalgic Ma Yafeh hayom  – a gentle and pretty pathway out of the Enchanted Guitar Forest and back out into the light, with a wistful melody and that delightful tremolo playing in spots again.

This is a truly delightful recording, displaying the many wonderful characteristics of the broader guitar family through sensitive idiomatic writing and arranging, and equally sensitive and wonderfully expressive guitar playing. A beautiful recording, and a must listen for those who enjoy the best of new contemporary guitar music.

Enchanted Guitar Forest is available for download on iTunes and Alex Lubet is on Spotify with this recording and his excellent 2013 Spectral Blues.

 

 

 

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Andrew Rubin Interview -Part Two

If you didn’t catch the first part of my interview with young up-and-coming guitarist/ composer/ multi-talented young musician, Andrew Rubin, then be sure to head here: Introducing Andrew Rubin and a New Guitar Concerto! Interview – Part 1

Here’s the second and final instalment of my inspiring interview with Andrew – I promise you it’ll make you want to go grab your guitar and do something new and different!

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So you’re a bit of multi-talented individual – you’ve come from a rock background, with your Dark Days project very funky kind of stuff, and The Magician a really interesting, cool piece of work with the animation along with your wonderful piece of music. I think you have a gift for orchestration. Do you see yourself working on these different kinds of projects going forwards?

Absolutely, and that’s the thing is that even though half of me is leaning towards going towards orchestration and scoring and stuff like that, I don’t want necessarily to….. I guess in music I like to jump from genre to genre. Even listening wise, you know. I could be on jazz for a while or even electronic music. I love artists like Frank Zappa who crossed over many different genres and just went wherever their muses took them. I aspire to be that same way, I would love to do orchestration and film score kind of stuff, but I also have a soft spot for writing pop songs like Dark Days. I want to do it all!

What’s next for you? What’s your next project?

For 2017 I kind of two projects going on right now. Dark Days was kind of the first song off of this four or five song EP that I was going to put out, with collaborations with different people. All sort of in a similar vein of two to three minute long, simple songs. And then at the same time I’ve been trying to construct a new classical piece, leaning towards a ballet kind of thing. I’ve been really inspired by Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and that vein. It’s one avenue I’ve not really explored yet, so it’s really exciting.

And so you’re playing some gigs this year too?

Yeah, actually at this very moment, in 25 minutes! Yeah, I’m very fortunate to live on the central coast of California, which has a lot of wineries and a lot of really nice places to play. It’s really nice here, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to play most weekends. And today is my first attempt at being able to perform the concerto with a backing track and doing a live thing today. So it will be a fun experiment.

How do you prepare for gigs?

If you’re going out there doing it by yourself definitely make a checklist! There’s so much stuff to remember. I’ve been to gigs before where I’ve forgotten the head of the PA. Be organised!

It’s important to not lose the aspect of improvising. I don’t like to make set lists, because you have to read the room, and know that you don’t want to put your best song at the beginning when the room hasn’t filled up yet and stuff like that. It’s fun to be spontaneous and have that element of uncertainty. That can lead to really cool ideas and really cool performances. Some of the best performances have been off the cuff, in the moment sort of things and so it’s always this constant balance of structure and letting go with music and performances.

Who are your inspirations as a musician? You spoke about Frank Zappa, who else or what else inspires you?

I think as I’ve gotten a little older I really look up to artists who, kind of like what I mentioned before, like Frank Zappa. I may not know his entire catalogue or all the music that he’s done, but as an artist what he was able to do. Very similar to David Bowie and Miles Davis. Individuals like that who were always reinventing  themselves and never kind of stuck with one thing, I really look up to those kind of individuals and aspire to be to that same way in my own career. God willing if I could be that way it’d be awesome!

As far as musical influences, as I mentioned before, that kind of changes from a classical angle I love Debussy, Stravinsky and Sibelius. And those people that really stood for what they believed in artistically, and did whatever they wanted and didn’t really care what other people thought. That inspires me.

What top tips would you have for folks out there who are perhaps aspiring to start composing or writing or start arranging or doing something different?

Well, I would say get out of your comfort zone and don’t ever say that you can’t do something, or think you can’t do something. Because the greatest things that have happened to me in my time of being a musician have been because I thought “why not?”. I’d have never gotten into orchestration if I hadn’t said to myself “why not try doing this?”. You know, I’m not formally educated in doing that, but kind of by stretching myself and trying it, you never know what can happen. So don’t ever box yourself into a “I’m only a singer-songwriter”, “I’m only a guitarist”, “I only do this” – try anything you want and go with it because you need know what might happen.

So you’re self-taught on the guitar?

Yes, for many years that was sort of my thing, it was just a lot of practice, a lot of bedroom practice just all the time. And when it came for orchestration it was a lot of reading books and self-study, and it wasn’t until about halfway through that process where I actually got a teacher, he actually showed refine it technically – “here’s the correct way of doing things”, “here’s the theory behind this and that” you know.

But up until that point it was a lot of reading books, a lot of listening to music, a lot of intuitive processes. Trial and error definitely.

So what do you do get up to when you’re not writing or playing?

Well, I love hanging out with my dogs. I’ve got two dogs – they’re like my kids. I’ve got an Australian Shepherd and Border Collie. They’ve got lots of energy all the time so they tire me out when I have my down time. So I like to spend time with them.

But I do music so much it’s kind of funny to think of my down time. I’m always like “what am I going to do next?”

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Well, after that interview and checking out some of Andrew’s recent work I’m sure you, dear readers, are as curious and excited as I am to see what this talented young man does do next.