January, 2001
CD Reviews



(Favored Nations)

Coming back after ten years away from the recording scene, Dweezil Zappa returns with his first primarily instrumental album. Like his dad, the late, great Frank Zappa, Dweezil’s music really shows how diverse a medium rock and roll really is. Just check out Dweezil’s two covers of the amazing "Hawaii Five-O" theme and a multi-tracked opus of "Les Toreadors" from the opera Carmen. The lone vocal on the album is a song from Doctor Seuss which features some inspired Zappa-esque vocals by brother Ahmet Zappa. Sandwiched in between these jewels are further sonic extrapolations of Dweezil’s own instro muse. Adding in players like Terry Bozzio (drums), Mike Keneally (rhythm guitar) and Joe Travers (drums) is another fine move by Dweezil. The trademark of the Zappa sound has always been about transcending stereotypes and genres. It must be great to have a father who is still considered one of the 20th Century’s most innovative and challenging rock musicians. No doubt Frank is somewhere digging Dweezil’s impressive new foray into the world of instrumental guitar. www.zappa.com 


Under The Radar
(Tiny Kingdom)

A mix of scorching jazz-rock fury and hair-raising guitar pyrotechnics, the new album from Alabama-based guitarist Ben Trexel is one of the best instrumental jazz-rock fusion albums of 2000. On his second solo album, Trexel is joined by John Williams (drums) and Geoff Sides (percussion) although, clearly the star here is Trexel’s formidable guitar chops and compositions. Some have compared Trexel’s playing to that of masters like Ronnie Montrose, Steve Hunter and even Jimmy Page, yet on Under The Radar Trexel tackles new musical ground with noteworthy ease. Performing on Fender electric guitar and Ovation and Gibson acoustic guitars, Trexel comes across like a one man guitar army. In addition to his guitar work, Trexel adds fuel to his fire with his own first rate accompaniment on bass and keyboards. Each song is cleverly crafted and is well balanced with studio wizardry, memorable arrangements and tasty melodic touches. Under The Radar is proof that the best hard-hitting guitar fusion albums can amaze with both might and mastery. www.guitar9.com  / tinykingdom@mindspring.com 

(Warner Bros.)

Guitar great Pat Metheny unites with Larry Grenadier (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums) for a new live double CD set that hearkens back to early Metheny trio recordings such as his 1975 album Bright Size Life, an album recorded with Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses. Metheny’s live albums have always presented a structured musical balance where melody and improvisation merge into one sonic blast of pleasure. Recorded during 99-00 in America, Europe and Japan, Live continues the long line of great Metheny in concert albums. Recorded in the aftermath of a two year stretch of recording and touring with his regular Pat Metheny Group, Live finds the guitar legend leading a potent guitar-based trio ensemble. According to Metheny, "It’s true that as much as I enjoy the open-endedness of the Group and the incredible freedom that exists in that world, I also love the sort of mobility and day to day flexibility that playing in a trio affords me. Actually, playing in a trio, is the easiest thing for me because it is actually the situation that I have played in the longest." Amid new live versions of Metheny classics like "Bright Size Life"and "Question And Answer" are trio covers of "Capricorn" by Wayne Shorter and "Giant Steps" by John Coltrane. Coupled with an ample display of Metheny’s acoustic guitar prowess and impressive 24-bit sound quality, Trio is a rewarding live document from one of the guitar world’s most respected masters. www.wbjazz.com  / www.patmethenygroup.com 

Canadian Impressions
(Leo Mark)

Hailing from Sweden and now writing soundtracks in the L.A. area, guitarist Erik Lundmark continues the prominent tradition of Scandinavian jazz-rock guitar great Janne Schaffer. In some ways similar to Pat Metheny’s best recordings, Lundmark’s fifth solo album is loaded with convincing compositions, first-rate guitar skills and inspiring arrangements. Recorded in Stockholm, Canadian Impressions finds the guitarist backed by a band of Scandinavian superstar musicians including Andreas Aarflot (keyboards) and Mikael Hadenquist (drums). Like both Metheny and Schaffer before him, Lundmark is masterful at mixing mysterious and moody jazz guitar settings with a more upbeat, almost funky instrumental guitar-based jazz-rock sound. A refreshing new guitar album filled with enchanting musical grooves, Canadian Impressions will be the ticket to further establishing Lundmark with a whole new market of American guitar devotees. www.cdbaby.com  / www.cdlimits.com 

Sleeping Angels

The recent album by guitarist Randy Z is a veritable feast for guitar fans of all ages. More New Age in scope than say jazz, Sleeping Angels covers the bases when it comes to merging a wealth of guitar genres. Mixing acoustic / electric guitars and drum programming to great effect, the CD ranges from dreamy, meditative New Age instrumentals to a more compelling and progressive instrumental sound. Never overpowering or concerned with musical might, Sleeping Angels sort of descends on your listening space, drawing the listener in rather than forcing the ear. The music ranges from a pastoral Windham Hill kind of vibe to music echoing the spirit of Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix with some soaring melodic guitar leads. Very few guitarists mix acoustic and electric playing within the frame of one song as well as Randy Z and his Sleeping Angels project. Let’s hope he gets to further cultivate his audio ideas. www.z-worksrecords.com 

A Year Closer
(Hapi Skratch/Avant Acoustic)

Colorado-based guitar ace Dave Beegle follows up his wide ranging Clear The Tracks compilation from last year with a new solo acoustic guitar set called A Year Closer. Entirely different in scope from his work with the progressive rock band Fourth Estate, A Year Closer is the perfect showcase for Beegle’s acoustic steel string guitar virtuosity as well as his love of Flamenco and classical guitar. In the spirit of icons like Steve Howe and Phil Keaggy, Beegle demonstrates that diversity is his great strength as a guitarist. Within the realm of Flamenco and Classical guitar skill is often paramount to innovation, yet it’s quite clear that Beegle’s prodigious talent and training makes A Year Closer much more than just another solo guitar CD. The 10 track album is filled with a number of Beegle originals as well as covers of the Spanish guitar favorite "Malaguena" along with a splendid Beegle cover of the Bach favorite "Joy". Several like-minded players add some fitting touches, although the spotlight is clearly on Beegle’s one of a kind guitar craft. www.hapiskratch.com/davebeegle 

Without Words
(Agnes / Music Design)

Subtitled Reflections From The Isle Of Man, the most recent CD from Nashville-based guitarist Michael Spriggs is a supremely relaxing album of pastoral instrumental guitarscapes further orchestrated by strings, fretless bass and soft percussion. Born in London, Spriggs moved to Nashville in 1971 and following his tenure as lead guitarist with Eddie Rabbitt he went on to become a highly sought after studio and session musician. Accompanying himself on acoustic, electric and baritone guitars as well as guitar synths, Spriggs is ably assisted by Jonathan Yudkin (violin, viola and mandolin), Steve Brewster (assorted percussion) and Richard "Spady" Brannan (fretless bass). A series of tender musical memoirs of Spriggs’ early years growing up on the Isle Of Man, Without Words effortlessly crosses over into the realm of New Age, easy listening and new acoustic instrumental musics. In addition to the picturesque cover art, the CD booklet features guitar tuning facts and the artist’s own track-by-track reflections of his life’s journey. www.cmspriggs.com  / www.michaelspriggs.com 

Azure Play
(Thunder Lizard)

One of those albums to just wind down to or relax to as soothing background music, Azure Play is a fine new album from Indiana-based steel string acoustic guitarist Matthew Kennedy. The big influence Leo Kottke has on Kennedy’s music can be detected here, yet the CD manages to break new ground within the new acoustic and instrumental guitar genres. The album features supplemental instrumentation from Kennedy’s cohort Gene Ort. Kennedy balances his musical reveries with some fine melodic ideas and guitar wizardry making the album a satisfying spin for New Age and light music followers alike. macakennedy@earthlink.net 

First Of All

One of the foremost up and coming artists in the new acoustic fingerstyle guitar genre, Steven Dillon strikes musical gold with his CD debut. Originally inspired by the hot licks of shred-guitar masters such as Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen, Dillon was tragically sidelined by a near fatal car accident. That unfortunate twist of fate lead him back to his first love - writing music and playing the acoustic guitar. A truly inspiring and well-crafted instrumental set of acoustic guitar compositions, First Of All is clearly influenced by fingerstyle masters like Don Ross and Billy McLaughlin although Dillon is quick to point out, "I believe that my style and sound have been shaped by my past as well as musicians who were inspired by Michael Hedges. I’m sort of a second generation Hedges-influenced player." Written, recorded and produced by Dillon, First Of All is at once serene and stimulating - an album filled with eleven impressionistic guitar settings punctuated by clever compositions and god-given talent. www.stevendillon.com  - http://mp3.com/stevendillon 

Space Age Tranceology
(Exotic Aquatic)

Sort of a cross between Robert Fripp and Brian Eno, the latest CD from NYC-based guitarist Scott Helland is a journey into ‘ambient acoustic instrumental space folk’. Described by the artist himself as "catching the melodies and riffs that are floating in the air", the album was written, performed and recorded by Helland on an assortment of acoustic, electric and bass guitars. Inspired by some of Eno’s earlier albums such as the New Age classic Music For Films, Helland’s Space Age Tranceology is a mystical trip into introspective and hypnotic guitar music. The minimalist techniques of Helland’s guitar performance really allows the notes ample breathing room. Space Age Tranceology immerses the listener in their own private zone and provides the perfect pause for musical meditation and relaxation. www.scotthelland.com 

Good People In Times Of Evil

A mainstay on the jazz-fusion and World Music scene for nearly three decades, Swedish bass guitarist Jonas Hellborg recently joined forces with guitarist Shawn Lane and India’s percussion wiz V. Selvaganesh for the newest release on Hellborg’s NYC-based Bardo Records. Anyone familiar with his resume will point to Hellborg’s impressive track record of works with giants like John McLaughlin, Ginger Baker and Bernie Worrell to name a few. Shawn Lane of course was the teenage guitar great who came of age with Black Oak Arkansas and went on to work with Joe Walsh and The Highwaymen. For their new trio CD, Hellborg, Lane and Selvaganesh consummate a dizzying set of improvisational music that defies categorization while also making a strong case for the current popularity of World Beat jazz-fusion. Similar to Hellborg’s earlier work with guitar great John McLaughlin, Good People will appeal to the same audience first captivated by McLaughlin’s acoustic World Beat ensemble Shakti. Equally mesmerizing and mysterious sounding, Good People In Times Of Evil strikes a compelling pose between agile World Beat fusion and acoustic jazz. www.hellborg.com 


Exotic Extremes

As guitarist Kevin Ferguson proved on his last CD, Strad To Strat - an album featuring electric guitar adaptations of classical violin music by Paganini, Bach and Vivaldi - no genre of music is safe from the electric guitar. Nor should it be as the guitarist points out on his new album of instrumental guitar renditions of various folk and dance musics from The Balkans, The Middle East and beyond. On his World Beat sound safari Ferguson receives top support from Chris Goldthorpe (bass) and percussionist Craig Carney. The accent here is squarely on Ferguson’s lightening quick guitar reflexes as he skillfully mirrors the daredevil time signatures required in executing these rousing folk tunes. Exotic Extremes is a lively, colorful musical rendezvous for World Beat fans and guitar enthusiasts alike. Ferguson’s web site is filled with number of strange and intriguing World-Beat main plays and side shows. www.debone.com

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