Tag Archives: Jazz

Review : E. Ryan Goodman “Halves” CD (Self Released, 2010)

halves_goodmanThere is a pervasive tenseness that roams among the 16 guitar instrumentals that make up E. Ryan Goodman’s Halves. The music, never joyful nor despondent, informs the listener that this inner struggle is a necessary and permanent one linked to the human experience. A distinct lack of melodic predictability and the often-wandering rhythms enhance the uneasy drift of these tracks. The music unfolds in no discernible pattern and like unwrapping a crumbled ball of paper, there are creases and folds throughout. Melodies collide atop one another, lines intersect at seemingly random moments, structures are askew and the aural landscape is distorted. The tunes here are slow-moving meditations that thread the needle between consonance and dissonance, the harmony of the music illicits neither smiles or sadness while remaining surprisingly pleasant to listen to.

The music approaches an evenness in tunes like the ironically titled “Melancholy Boogie” and “When Past is Present”, but these momentary states of grace are only diversions from the koan this album explores with an uncommon persistence. This isn’t to say that the musical statements Goodman seems to be making on this record are either confusing or unclear. The perpetual ambiguity of modality is not a set up for transcendental wizardry, as so many guitar mavens today attempt with blatant un-artistry, but seems more like an honest sojourn of one man and his instrument fumbling through a set of unfamiliar keys, trying to unlock the door of his own house. A card that Goodman plays with humble effectiveness is that many of the tracks here show a good amount of humor, and it is this self-removed perspective that renders the entire work with honesty and humility. This is not a guy who takes himself too seriously, though he approaches the work with dedication. One listen to “Through Bramble”, a defiant and out of tune arpeggiated workout, proves that there are more dimensions to be found in the guitar beyond the stoic and reverent.

In many ways, the record is an inner-facing struggle to reconcile some unspoken problem, a spiritual dilemma never stated to the listener. Each track begins at the moment when some imponderable question is volleyed into the void without preamble, and ends gracefully without an epilogue. It is this bare-bones composition technique that is so appealing on Halves. What we witness is pure process at work, the churning gyrations of the mind as it solves problems, searches for equilibrium and ultimately accepts the impossibility of finality or definition. What sets this album above many contemporary six string auteurs is that it feels like an authentic effort to dig into new, personal territory for the artist and not simply an effort to mystify and buffalo an uncritical listener.

Buy this limited edition CD from E. Ryan Goodman

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Review : Duck Baker “The King Of Bongo Bong” CD (Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, 2010)

bongo_500Duck Baker has been a figure in the acoustic guitar scene since the 1970’s and The King of Bongo Bong, his third record on the Kicking Mule label, highlights his interest in swing, blues and folk guitar. Duck would, later in his career, delve as deeply into Celtic and other traditional styles as he does into 20’s-era swing guitar on this recording. The four-to-the-bar style is prominent on a number of these tracks, and as usual with Duck Baker, a nylon-string guitar is played throughout the album. Duck mixes his playing with both strummed-chord comping on the more upbeat numbers and fingerstyle on the more intricate tunes, oftentimes blending the two picking styles.

The album kicks off with “New Righteous Blues”, a Baker/Stefan Grossman duet which oddly introduces Duck’s playing as accompaniment to Grossman’s soloing over the track. Though some of Stefan’s lead lines are tasteful, his pentatonic leads packed with skillful string-bends, this ever-present soloing seems overpowering in its presence throughout the track. Duck’s admirably honest voice doesn’t quite command one’ s attention enough to make this a strong vocal piece, either, which makes it a diffused rag-blues workout. Blind Blake’s 1930 recording of this song is far more compelling in its buoyant rhythm and highly syncopated style, and Blake’s original falsetto on the answering lines is missed in this updated version. “Deep River” features another prominent lead guitar contribution by Grossman, who also produced this album. Continue reading