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.

 

 

 

Album Review: Fine Light by Rick Alexander

For those of you who are regular readers you would have seen the name of Melbourne guitarist-composer Rick Alexander a few times on the blog in the last year or so, including a guest post written by the man himself*.

Well, in September 2013 (yes, I know I’m late in reviewing this – naughty me!), Rick released his latest (and might I add greatest) collection of pieces for solo nylon string guitar. Actually, to call the tracks on the album “pieces” doesn’t seem to fit quite right,  I like to think of them as rather songs without words, such is their beautifully melodic quality.

Fine Light is a wonderful collection of imaginative, lyrical and reflective songs, some of which Rick began writing in the early 2000s and completed in 2013. For me this album is a perfect accompaniment to a lazy Sunday morning, or a quiet reflective evening in – there’s certainly more than enough melodic and harmonic interest there to keep you humming along (and even making an earworm or two), but without overly taxing the noggin. If you like simply beautiful instrumental music, delivered in a cool, clear crisp and emotive manner by the composer themself then this is a recording to add to the collection.

Rick

Of the 16 tracks on the album here are some of the highlights for me:

Missing You – Rick wrote this one for his wife after she’d just left for a long trip overseas, a tune with a sweet, longing disposition but without being overly melancholy. Rick makes great use of some alternative tuning on this track, tuning the A string down to G, which lends a fantastic depth and resonance to the tune.

Intersection – overdubbed duet of interweaving lines, originally intended and recorded purely as a solo piece, but Rick then decided to overdub an improvised second part over the top to great effect

Gliding – a song with wistful, slightly melancholy feel. Rick brings in a key change midway through that offers a glimmer of positive hope, with shimmering chords and a delightfully positive ending.

Frozen Space – another with a slightly wistful feel to it, but with some lovely guitaristic effects including perfectly timed use of harmonics. Simply beautiful.

PJ – not a song about his pyjamas! This is a tune Rick wrote in 2012 whilst in Petaling Jaya (PJ), Malaysia and features a wonderfully laid-back, upbeat melody, featuring a really lovely ending with a nice little jazzy chord for good measure. Up there in the running for my favourite track of all.

Fine Light – an intriguing opening with plenty of breathing space, making you wonder where it’s headed…..Before Rick then launches into this great toe-tapper of a tune. In fact I dare you to listen to this one and not tap along! I’d go so far as to say that this is my favourite track of them all – most definitely. It’s just an all-round great tune, a great up-beat feel, some really nice harmonies with a little bit of spice, contemporary cross-flavour nylon string guitar writing at its best.

If you head on over to Rick’s website he’s got Missing You and Fine Light  up there as free tracks to listen to. He’s also been kind enough to transcribe them and post up the sheet music for you too, so you can play along!

I definitely recommend you head over and check it out:  http://www.rickalexanderguitar.com/finelight.html

And if you wanted your own copy of this gorgeous recording, the same link features the various ways you can get hold of a copy for yourself – CD or a download through iTunes or Amazon. The CD is also available through Amazon, CD Baby and CD Universe. Alternatively if you’re in Melbourne you can buy the CD from Hans Music Spot, Croydon or from Audiophile Reference Recordings at 2 Florence Street, Burwood.

 

* Just in case you missed out here are those previous posts featuring Rick:

https://classicalguitarnstuff.com/2013/09/23/introducing-rick-alexander/

https://classicalguitarnstuff.com/2014/03/17/qa-with-rick-alexander/

https://classicalguitarnstuff.com/2014/02/03/from-nylon-to-steel-and-back/