One of the many micro-currents circulating in this year's festival is a plethora of amazing guitar players. Here's a look at a few, and some suggestions for a few more.
Sometimes how you get to place can be as interesting as the destination itself. In 1975 Jeff Beck released what is arguably one of the greatest jazz rock albums of all time, 'Blow by Blow'. The George Martin-produced album featured a Stevie Wonder tune, "Cause We Ended as Friends", dedicated (and in the style of ) a guitar player I had never heard of—Roy Buchanan. I had never really heard anything like this, and searching through used record stores I got a copy of his first album, featuring “Sweet Dreams” and “The Messiah Will Come Again”, and was hooked on this strange moaning guitar of The Best Unknown Guitarist in the World for next 30 years.
Fast forward a bunch of years at the tiny 55 Christopher Street club in New York. I'm listening to Mike Stern, and during the break, I hear that sound again, but it is not Roy Buchanan. It is San Francisco's Jim Campilongo. A few nights later, at the same club I got to see Campilongo with his squeaky tight trio in his grey sharkskin suit, playing some of the most out there country jazz while channelling the best of Roy Buchannan. It was transcendental, and loud!
It still is. This is Campilongo doing his tribute to Roy Buchanan called 'Blues for Roy'
From his original country jazz band, Jim Campilongo and the Ten Gallon Cats, to his more recent work with Nora Jones and the Little Willies, and collaborations with Nels Cline, Campilongo has continued to push the limits of his ancient top loading Telecaster. His guest columns in Guitar Player Magazine, featuring obscure guitar albums, are always interesting, as his dedication to guitar education. His website beside the usual tour dates, and CD sales, is filled with lessons and gear information and tips as well as interesting forum section where there are discussions about what to wear to the gig. Of his recorded output, my personal favourite is the American Hips album, but might you what to check his more eclectic Orange album, featuring both the adventurous side of his playing, as well as some Chet Atkins' things and Nora Jones vocals.
Campilongo is truly the best bargain of the Jazz Festival. What would cost you a two drink minimum per set in New York, you can get for free.
Tommy Emmanuel plus Jenn Bojm & Khingfisher
The words virtuoso, entertaining, and popular don't always go together. I once sat through a Paco De Lucia concert where he did not speak a word. Australian finger style guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel has been playing the guitar professionally since the age six. The idea of not being entertaining probably doesn't even occur to him.
Twice awarded Best Acoustic Guitarist by Guitar Player Magazine, one of only five players recognized as a Certified Guitar Player by his mentor Chet Atkins, Emmanuel is truly one of the highlights of this years' Jazz Festival.
To describe what Tommy Emmanuel does as finger style guitar is, I think, somewhat limiting, and perhaps puts him in a category of more intricate style of players like Julian Lage or Chris Eldridge. Not to say that Emmanuel's style isn't intricate, but he does want to explore some of the greater sonic qualities of the guitar, and has an aversion to shoe gazing. Emmanuel is a popular staple on PBS, and there are many good concert videos on the internet and a wide selection of 'living room' type videos offering comments and advice. But I thought I'd like to share this one. Supposedly, he put it out on Reddit that he would take requests. So this is “Purple Haze” done in someone's backyard, (complete with barbeque), on a guitar given to him by Jean Larrivee.
This TED talk gives you good sense of humour and some notion of his technique (albeit for the non-guitar player)
Tommy Emmanuel is like your guitar playing uncle who always shows up at the party and is always fun. A new father at age 60, there is something really endearing about the fact that, through all the touring and fame, Emmanuel is still rather humble about “Windy and Warm” the Chet Atkins's tune that started it all for him. He still digs it, you can just tell.
A true highlight of the festival for guitar players and non guitar players alike.
In addition to Tommy Emmanuel, the evening will bring two of Vancouver's newest, and most crystalline voices to the stage as Tommy Emmanuel's opening act on June 25: Jenn Bojm & Khingfisher.
The delicate, hushed duo of Jenn Bojm & Khingfisher was recently named one of Vancouver’s Best Bands by The Georgia Straight. The publication lauded the “quivering intensity and beauty” of the pair’s collection of haunting, stripped-bare acoustic guitar duo folk covers from the likes of Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, and Richard Farina.
"On Symphony Club... you wonder if the vinyl might disintegrate under too much exposure to light...." - Amanda Siebert of The Georgia Straight
Ben Monder is maybe not quite as well known as some of the other guitarists coming to the festival, he probably should be. The New York native has worked with Lee Konitz, Jack McDuff, Paul Motian, Maria Schieder, and more significantly was the guitarist on David Bowie's last album Blackstar. Besides his huge list of projects as a sideman, Monder has produced a number of solo albums including, Oceana in 2005 an album with Vancouver homeboys pianist Chris Gestrin and drummer Dylan van der Schyff.
It is maybe the sentimentalist in me, but I can appreciate Monder's wispy and ambient style in what would become Bowie’s last album. This is a tune called “Lazarus” from that album.
You can hear a lot of influences in Monder's playing from John Abercrombie to Dave Torn, and perhaps because of my love of Dave Torn, I am particularly fond Monder's more ambient work. This one in particular:
So, you think you are hip enough for Kurt Rosenwinkel, do you?
Well then I invite you go to his website kurtrosenwinkel.com, gaze at his headshot and get back to me, punk.
A few months back Guitar World magazine suggested to their mainly heavy metal readership that a jazz guitarist they should check out would be Kurt Rosenwinkel. What they were obviously picking up on that Rosenwinkel is definitely pushing the boundaries of what is considered jazz guitar--and it isn't because he's doing any shredding. Since receiving his first NEA grant in 1995, and working with Gary Burton and Joshua Redman, Rosenwinkel has been very successful at blending a traditonal jazz guitar sound and repertoire, with innovatative compositional and arrangement techniques. A good example of this is the jazz standard “Stella by Starlight”, done under the influence of the Electro Harmonix HOG pedal. This is not the Joe Pass version.
His newest album Caipi is probably the best example of Rosenwinkel blending different forms into something that is definitely jazz. The album features Mark Turner on tenor saxophone, and Eric Clapton guests, and although pop rockish in places, in some places we have weird time signatures and motifs coming in at us sideways. No real videos of the tunes, but this series of concerts meant as a workout of the tunes for the album. The song writing in particular might remind you of a young Pat Metheny--a common comparison.
So, you've got your wool cap or slouchy toque, tight seventies plaid shirt, pants that end mid-calf, a jar of kombucha infused honey in the basket of your Schwinn bicycle, so head on down to:
You can also go to his free workshop at 1pm June 29th at Tom Lee, and Rosenwinkel can tell you where it is all going.
The slide guitar has very straightforward utilitarian history. In the road houses, house parties, and street corners of the early 20th century south, you needed something that was loud, easy to learn how to play, and cheap. The first person to slide a knife blade or bottle neck down the strings of a guitar probably realized that right away. It was loud, if you tuned the guitar to an open chord you didn't need to learn any chords, and because you didn't really have to finger any notes, your guitar didn't have to decent action or even intonated to play in tune, (i.e. cheap).
Early practitioners like Blind Willie McTell, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Charley Patton, Son House, and even the King of the Delta Blues, Robert Johnson used slide almost like a weapon against unruly crowds.
It wasn't until 1951 when electric blues guitarist Elmore James released “Dust My Broom” that slide came of age. The solution was subtlety and volume. You didn't have to beat it to make it loud; you could take advantage of the smooth slick sound--on a good guitar.
This takes us to a myriad of modern players from Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, George Harrison, Duane Allman, Bonnie Raitt, Derek Trucks, and of course Sonny Landreth.
Though nowhere near as well known as he should be, perhaps the true test of Landreth's skill is the number of guitar players he has worked with: Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Johnny Winter, Jerry Douglas, Warren Haynes, Eric Johnson…the list goes on and on. Clapton calls him the most advanced guitarist in the world.
I think the reason is that if you have tried to slide that metal or glass tube down the strings, one of the first things you discover is how hard it is to get it exactly right. Stop too soon, get it little off kilter, and that mellow float down the Mississippi has turned into a train wreck. Landreth is smooth, in tune, and silky. As this solo version of “Zydeco Shuffle” indicates.
Landreth's use of both the slide and fretting fingers makes his playing both unusual and complex. This next clip of Landreth's "Congo Square", and the other contender for the King of the Slide guitar, Derek Trucks, really points out the difference between those two styles.
And a little Canadian content for everyone, Toronto's Colin Linden, Vancouver's Steve Dawson, and Landreth doing Santo and Johnny's “Sleepwalk”.
Paco Rentería began playing flamenco guitar at age seven, he graduated from music school at fourteen and began an international recording and performance career. His most notable work perhaps being the guitar work in the Antonio Banderas movie Desperado.
Rentería has taken the various influences in his musical life and melded them together into something he calls 'freeplay'.
Rentería has a huge following in his native Mexico, appreciated as the finest flamenco player (acknowledged even by the Mexico's president no less) the country has produced in decades.
And if this guitar thing doesn't work out, he has a degree in Law and Business Administration.
There are lots of other really interesting guitar players in this year’s festival. Too many to go into detail about, but I really recommend checking out Dalava with Aram Bajakian, Tony Wilson’s various projects, SICK BOSS at the China Cloud, Gordon Grdina’s East Van Strings, Septet, and Haram projects, Talking Pictures at the Ironworks, Polaris Prize nominated Thus Owls, and Pasquale Grasso with Tony Foster at Frankie’s. Who knows? Maybe the next great guitar player is waiting for you to discover them.