One of the preeminent acoustic guitarists in America today, Lawson Rollins released his CD debut Infinita back in 2007 and he follows up in 2010 with the CD release of Espirito. In the spirit of Infinita, Lawson’s latest CD is a full-fledged production featuring a number of gifted players including violinist Charlie Bisharat, whose excellent work graced Infinita too. When it comes to nylon string neoclassical flamenco work, few can touch Rollins and that practice continues moving forward with Espirito. The CD features key contributions from Randy Tico (bass), Dave Bryant (percussion) as well as further guitar performance from the album’s co-producer Shahin Shahida (electric guitar) and Joseph Ehtesham-zadeh (on slide guitar). Also like Infinita, famed Brazilian musicians Airto Moreira and Flora Purim make some impressive appearances here. Commenting on incorporating such a wide range of colorful World Beat influences into his mix, Rollins adds, ‘I love the hybrid quality of World Music and how it allows for cross-cultural communication and exchange. Centuries ago, travel, trade, and migration created new forms of musical expression. The Spanish guitar is a true manifestation of the commingling of cultures with it's ties to the Arabic oud, the Persian tar, even the Indian sitar, so drawing on those connections seems natural to me.' Also in the spirit of Infinita, the colorful multi-panel CD packaging and artwork of Espirito is outstanding and enhances a thoroughly enjoyable hour or so of instrumental music magic.


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Musical Background

I switched from playing the drums to classical guitar at age 15 much to my parents’ and neighbors’ pleasure. The drums did give me solid rhythmic foundation, which has helped tremendously with my guitar playing over the years. One of the benefits of starting with classical guitar is you quickly appreciate the importance of achieving a good tone and of course good technique. I can’t imagine anything more demanding (and unnerving) than playing a classical guitar recital before a small discerning audience when you are a teenager! The smallest imperfections become glaring. After a few years of this, I discovered jazz and Latin guitar styles and shifted my focus to composing and improvising my own music. In 1998 I started the Latin guitar fusion group, Young & Rollins, comprised of two dueling nylon string guitarists back by bass and Latin percussion. We recorded four albums together while touring the world. Our last album Mosaic from 2006 really captures what we were about in terms of composition and performance.

In 2008, I released my first solo cd, Infinita, which incorporated a much more diverse spectrum of instrumentation and represented a significant departure from the Young & Rollins sound. I wrote all the music and recorded the guitar tracks first, then spent several months adding in the performances of about 18 different musicians and vocalists from South America, Europe, and the Middle East. My goal was to broaden the musical canvas beyond what I did with Young & Rollins and create more of a large scale world fusion album rather than a guitar-centric Latin sound. To help me assemble the different artists on the album, I brought in two co-producers - Shahin Shahida of the Persian-American group Shahin & Sepehr and Dom Camardella, who has produced Flora Purim, Ottmar Liebert, and others. We put together quite a cast of players, including some amazing Persian musicians, the legendary Brazilian singer Flora Purim, percussion master Airto Moreira, and jazz fusion bassist Randy Tico. It was a thrill to hear these artists working their magic throughout my compositions and quite humbling to hear Grammy winning virtuoso Charlie Bisharat instantaneously doubling some of my most speedy guitar lines on his violin. As for the guitar playing on the album, there is the keen focus on melody and solid composition that you would hear in my work with Young & Rollins, but now with a greater regard for bringing out the best in the ensemble and never letting the guitar fireworks overwhelm the music. But even though Infinita is very much an ensemble effort, the guitar is always there to weave everything together and create a consistency in the melodic voice heard throughout the album.

New CD

On my new album entitled Espirito my goal was simply to raise the level of what we achieved on Infinita in all aspects of the music, composition, performances, and even recording quality. On Espirito I offer 13 original compositions that meld an eclectic mix of Latin and Middle Eastern musical influences with my Spanish-tinged guitar style. The album features an ensemble of internationally recognized musicians. I co-produced the album with the same producers from the Infinita album, Persian-American musician and producer Shahin Shahida and multi-platinum producer Dominic Camardella . The cast of performers includes some of the same names from Infinita, singer Flora Purim, percussionist Airto Moreira, Grammy winner Charlie Bisharat on violin, along with some new faces such as Iranian kamancheh master Kayhan Kalhor and Cuban drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez. Espirito’s wide-ranging musical palette spans continents and cultures. I love the hybrid quality of World Music and how it allows for cross-cultural communication and exchange. The Spanish guitar is a true manifestation of the commingling of cultures with its ties to the Arabic oud, the Persian tar, even the Indian sitar, so drawing on those connections seems natural to me. The players on Espirito are connected to traditions from India, Persia, Afghanistan, Spain, Brazil, Cuba and the United States. Together we took a far-ranging musical journey of our own in the recording of the album.

Favorite Guitars

The main guitar I used on Espirito was my custom Pedro Maldonado nylon string guitar, made according to my specs. It has a narrow 50mm neck, a particularly deep cutaway, a rounded off heel, and a beautiful tone due to the cedar top and rosewood sides and back. I always use hard tension strings - LaBella 2001 Concert Series is my brand of choice. My guitar was recorded by Dom Camardella at his Santa Barbara Sound Design studio using a Klaus Heyne modified Neumann mic and an older AKG 414EB, which were run through two vintage Neve 1064 mic preamps directly into a ProTools 192-HD interface and recorded at 88.2kHz with a sample rate of 24 bit resolution using the new Ruper Neve 5088 high resolution mixing console. No compression was used during the recording phase. The final mix was then recorded onto analog tape using a vintage ATR-102 half inch stereo tape machine. Bernie Grundman personally mastered the album from the analog tape. The result is to my ears the best guitar tone I’ve achieved on a recording.

Musical Influences

In my teen years, my musical appreciation was shaped by constant exposure to music across many different genres. Three albums that directly inspired my guitar playing at an early age were The Segovia Collection, Vol. 3: My Favorite Works, a compilation of the great Spanish classics, several of which I learned; secondly, the world-fusion album Fragments of a Dream by Inti-Illimani, which blended in some wonderful flamenco guitar by Paco Pena, who I consider an inspiration; finally, I can’t leave out Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Rising Force” album, which raised the bar so high for virtuoso neoclassical electric guitar. Though I play with my fingers, I learned many of Malmsteen’s signature arpeggios and single note runs which I still use to this day. Currently, I listen less to guitar music and more to music in the World category where you find some very adventurous fusion taking place. The numerous albums of Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, for example, represent a truly inclusive musical perspective which I find inspirational as an artist.

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