One popular view of Los Angeles
is of a city of air-headed movie stars and
wannabees, or alternatively of warring gangs.
Artistic achievement? Perhaps a few arthouse
movies ... oh, and the LA Philharmonic isn’t
bad and there is Johnny Depp’s jazz club.
Well, it is time the notion
of LA as lacking in serious artistic pretensions
was knocked on the head. Just taking theatre,
the city has more acting spaces than anywhere
else in the US. And here is more evidence;
the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet has produced
an outstanding CD which manages to be both
musically substantial yet incredibly easy
to listen to at the same time.
The disc is a highly sophisticated
set of tributes to the LAGQ’s mentors, influencers
and teachers. With one exception (Los Romeros),
the source material has been reworked in the
style of the original model but always with
a very individual LAGQ touch. From the outset,
enterprise and invention are predominant;
some interesting effects kick off Ralph Towner’s
Icarus, segueing into an infectious samba.
And variety is also the name of the game.
The moto perpetuo bluegrass of B&B is
followed by the warmly repetitive sixth-based
chords of Reverie for Mahavishnu, while the
proximity of Hendrix and Handel’s London residences
gives rise to some maniacal baroque whimsicality.
And so it goes on. Exuding
intelligence and musicality, the arrangements
provide for technical virtuosity and wonderful
ensemble, four very individual musicians yet
sounding as one. They seem to have absorbed
all the styles, none sounds forced or applied.
Metheny’s gentle, sunlit style seems as natural
to them as the vigorous flamenco of Steve
Howe or Django’s Latin impressionism, the
Hot Club taking on some intriguingly chromatic
harmonies. Michael Hedges’ very substantial
sequences the simple but effective ostinato-based
‘Lament’ and a vigorous ‘Wake’, replete with
extended techniques. The Zappa piece is five
witty movements (irony on an ironist?) ending
with a demented jig wandering about in a chromatic
The CD concludes with a Chet
Atkins-inspired comically twee country tune
daftly reminiscent of the ‘Third Man’ theme.
I laughed out loud and promptly played the
whole CD again. The LAGQ represents the best
in ‘crossover’ or ‘fusion’ music (there is
no satisfactory term). They are classical
players unafraid to incorporate any and all
styles in classical forms; their ideas, whether
from pop, world music or jazz are fully assimilated
and, on this CD, turned into miniature masterpieces
using their contrapuntal and melodic imaginations,
not to mention formidable virtuosity. On top
of that, the recording is exemplary.
This is my all-time favourite
guitar record and I recommend it with huge