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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Album Review – From Her Source To The Sea by Matthew Fish

 

Well this is the final album review of the year I have for you today folks, and we’re wrapping up 2016 with a beautiful recording from US-based guitarist Matthew Fish.

This recording clearly demonstrates that Matthew is a very talented guitarist and musician. His biography is testament to this fact also, having received his Bachelor’s of Music Degree from CSU, Chico and then his Masters of Music in 2012 at the San Francis Conservatory of Music studying with Sérgio Assad.

Matthew is a strong supporter of new repertoire for the guitar and has premiered works by a number of contemporary composers. As well as his solo work Matthew is also a member of the San Francisco Guitar Quartet.

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This latest project of Matthew’s, released on 25th September – From Her Source To The Sea – is a recording comprised entirely of the works of Johannes Möller. It’s so great to see (and hear!) an album of this nature – Johannes has such a great collection of compositions, it’s fabulous to hear other artists, particularly talented up and coming young artists, pick them up, play them so beautifully and dedicate an entire recording to them. I just love this approach; a great in-depth study of one contemporary composer’s works. Bloody brilliant!

The track listing includes:

  • Song to the Mother
  • A Star in the Sky, a Universe Within…
  • From Her Source to the Sea (of which this is the world premier recording!)
  • 6 of the 24 Preludes, Op. 12 (of which these are also the world premier recordings!)
    • No. 3 in G Major
    • No. 5 in D Major
    • No. 7 in A Major
    • No. 8 in F# Minor
    • No. 12 in G# Minor
  • The Night Flame (another world premier recording!)
  • Nocturne Op.16, No.1 (and another world premiere recording, and this one was dedicated to Matthew by Johannes)
  • Ananda
  • Future Hope

This is an album that I don’t hesitate in believing that Johannes himself would be very proud of (and that Matthew should be proud too). Matthew’s playing is as virtuosic as any I’ve heard in recent times. He’s more than equipped technically to deal with the Johannes Möller repertoire. Absolutely fantastic playing, partnered with a very well produced recording.

He’s also clearly more than equiped with his sense of musicality to really bring Johannes’ music to life. My favourite track on the album would have to be a toss-up between The Night Flame and album opener Song to the Mother.

The Night Flame is a dramatic Indian-inspired piece of hearty length, and not an undertaking for the player of faint-heart! With the slow, gentle, lulling start to the piece Matthew plays all beautiful ringing on cross-strings and introduction of the main melodic theme in a haunting fashion, underpinned by a pulsating Indian rhythm. Matthew builds the intensity throughout the piece, and creates the beautiful, shimmering illusion that he’s in fact playing a sitar rather than a Western classical guitar, and the build-up through the rasgueado section makes the hair on the back of me neck stand up! This piece is at once beautifully haunting and dramatically virtuosic.

Song to the Mother is played with a lush tone, both down in the lower positions and right up the top of the fretboard. Matthew delivers the piece with just a fabulous sense of timing throughout those divine phrases Möller has written. And I just love, love, love those little harmonic flourishes.

This album is an absolute must if you’re a fan of beautifully played, contemporary classical guitar. From Her Source to the Sea is expressive, beautiful, dramatic, inspiring. Matthew Fish is a classical guitarist to keep an eye (and ear on) for sure.

Details on where you grab your own copy of From Her Source to The Sea is on Matthew’s website: http://www.matthewfishguitar.com/recordings.html

And check out some of Matthew’s beautiful playing on YouTube too: