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


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.





Selecting Classical Guitar Studies and Études


I’ve had some questions recently (and not so recently that I’ve not fully responded to as yet – apologies) with respect to the selection of studies and the role they play in your practice. So I thought I’d put a few words together for you on my thoughts

There’s no doubt that studies, for the beginner, intermediate and even advanced classical guitarist, can be very helpful indeed. But like anything, all in moderation and considered thoughtfully as to their purpose and what you want to achieve by playing or studying these kinds of pieces.

For those not familiar with the term “studies”, these are pieces of music, often relatively short in length, with a particular didactic purpose. This ranges from everything from left hand studies, focussing on things like barrés, upper fret positions, or cross string movements, to right hand studies, focussing on things like “a” finger movements, multi-finger chordal playing or arpeggios and pretty much anything in between. There are even studies relating to playing in different keys, some of which make for pretty interesting playing (think keys with more than one or two flats!).

And there are a whole world of studies out there. More than you could probably every want to play to be honest! And probably more than you’d ever need and find useful too.

So why would you play studies (or études you may also see them called, in French)? Well, if there’s a particular technical difficulty or challenge you’re experiencing in a piece you’re learning or aiming to learn you might want to select a study or two relating to that particular technical aspect. Or if you’re wanting to strengthen a particular part of your playing that you feel is a little weak picking some studies in relation to that aspect can help and give a bit of focus to your technique outside of the repertoire pieces you’re learning or playing.

Soundhole B&W

In terms of what I use and have used, and to give you some guidance as to potentially where to start, here are some pointers (I can’t give specifics really as we’re all different with differing strengths and weaknesses  – although if any of you want to message with questions on specifics on more than happy to answer here):

  • Think about what it is you want to strengthen or work on – be mindful and focussed on what it is you want to work on to select material that is most helpful right now.
  • The book “Pumping Nylon” by Scott Tennant is a great go-to book with a collection of all sorts of different studies, short and slightly longer, covering pretty much all technical aspects of classical guitar technique. A pretty useful, and cost-effective, approach to picking different studies to work on. I definitely called on this book a fair bit in my developmental years and dip into it every now and then to get back to basics.
  • Giuliani’s 120 right hand studies – wee little vignettes – are fantastic for developing all sorts of right hand techniques. Highly recommend.
  • Some of the more musical examples of great studies and études to incorporate are Fernando Sor’s many études for the guitar. I personally love Op.29  No.13 in B flat major. It’s a really beautiful piece and introduces (or re-introduces) you to the delights (meant non-sarcastically) of playing in this little-used key on the guitar.
  • If you want to check out some brand spanking new study-type pieces check out Dan Nistico’s latest offering looking at the moods, feelings, emotions, and colours of each and every major and minor key:

PS – And apparently, for those that are into such things, Classical Guitar n Stuff has been named in Feedspot’s Top 75 Guitar Blogs on the tinterwebs. Hah!