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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Crossover Artist Lindsey Saunders

Welcome to part two of Crossover Week here on Classical Guitar n Stuff. In case you missed part one you can check it out here: CLICK HERE!

As you’ll know (well, those of you who’ve been here more than a handful of times) I’m quite the music fan, not just a classical guitar nut. I’m also quite partial to other forms of guitar, including our steel stringed acoustic and electric cousins. I’m a big believer in cross-fertilisation, listening to, learning from and taking the best, juiciest bits I fancy from other forms of guitar music, and other music in general really!

You’ll also know however that to get a gig on the blog, as it were, as a non-nylon string player is quite a rare thing. There are plenty of websites and blogs and so on out there on the tinerweb dedicated to electric guitar, rock music and so on, so I like to keep this as our classical guitar enclave! Big up to the nylon string! However, reverting back to what I said above I think it’s very healthy to explore other musics within the guitar family and beyond. It all gets a bit incestuous otherwise!!

As you may imagine I get requests a-many to feature all sorts of artists on the blog, so it does take a little something to coax me away from purely (more or less) classical guitarists for the above-mentioned reasons. I was introduced a couple of weeks ago to a young artist by the name of Lindsey Saunders, and this young woman’s original acoustic steel string music was one of those rare moments inviting me outside of the nylon string realm.

Released just this week (4th November) is Lindsey’s first instrumental composition, Miles Before Sleep,  written for a contemporary dance production in Chicago last summer.  The recording is comprised of four movements –   Task, Decision, Questioning  and  Acceptance.

I’ll admit it takes me a while to get my ear into a purely steel string recording, as it’s quite a different sound palette and texture to the nylon string classical guitar. Once you atune the ear into the bright, piercing nature of the steel string you can really begin to appreciate some of the more subtle nuances of the playing style.

Lindsey’s style is very much an indie pop-rock style with inflections of country, chord driven melodies and infectious toe-tapping strumming  – and I should mention delivered with a mixed plectrum and plucked right hand technique (the first artist with a plectrum on Classical Guitar n Stuff!!).

Miles Before Sleep Revision

So here are my thoughts on Miles Before Sleep…..

Task is a lovely, melodic opener to the recording, starting out gently, quietly, simply, building in volume and intensity throughout. I can imagine someone singing along with it. A kind of song without words.

Decision could be in contention for my favourite on the recording. Lovely use of harmonics. Creeping melody, leaving us hanging wondering what’s coming next and continuing in this vein, leading us to an “ahhh” moment when the fantastic steel string chordal playing comes into full effect.

Questioning  is in fact probably my favourite of the four tracks. I love intricate-sounding finger work in the middle before it moves into a quasi-country stomping strum before then giving away to more loose, magical sounding chord progressions that really do sound as if they’re questioning something as the title suggests.

And after all that questioning comes the final Acceptance. In its major key and lyrical style it really does feel like a great close to the recording – its clearly an acceptance of something, an understanding, a resolution to the almost aching qualities within the music that preceded it.

Check out Lindsey in action and that interesting right hand technique with a clip of Decision:

Lindsey Saunders recording Miles Before Sleep is available from all good digital music outlets worldwide.