Two National Finger Style Champions combine...
Hearing that Kentucky native and National Fingerstyle Guitar Champion Pat Kirtley was teaming up with fellow National Fingerstyle Champion John Standefer, you might not expect the result to be a CD of Brazilian music. However, a quick glance at Kirtley's history shows a versatile musician who has explored and recorded in most genres of music: country to jazz, pop to Celtic. The sambas and bossa novas of this 2002 CD are one more extension of this eclectic artist's musical journeys and they show his usual deep musicality, respect for tradition, and attention to detail.
My reasons for reviewing this CD are two: it is one of my favourite CDs that I keep coming back to, and I do not think enough people know about it. Whenever I play it for friends, they invariably ask where they can buy it.
Brazilian Guitar gets off to a rousing start with Mas Que Nada, played with an infectious groove, swinging rhythm guitar, light but driving percussion, and great lead guitar work by both Kirtley and Standefer. A nice tight arrangement ends with a few crip chords. Then we are into El Cerrito. The first of Kirtley's five songs in this set, it is a testament to his compositional skill that they fit in stylistically perfectly with the others. A careful listen to the accompanying guitars in this one will give you an idea why both of these gentlemen are National Fingerstyle Guitar Champions.
The Beatles' beautiful ballad And I Love Her is next, again in true Brazilian style with some astonishingly beautiful harmonies added to enhance the melodic meditations even further. Standefer has a lovely resonator guitar solo in the middle. Much of the Beatles early music had a clear Latin influence (listen to the original version of I'm Looking Through You on Anthology 2, for example). This arrangement takes this notion to a sublime level.
What kind of Brazilian guitar CD would it be without a tune by Jobim? One Note Samba is his contribution , with a light medium-tempo version that swings along to a very deft triangle part. We then slow down for a more intense interlude with Manha De Carnaval, one of - if not the - original bossa nova songs. This is one of the few songs that use a bass, and its spare lines remind us of the original sound of bossa nova before it became a sub-genre of jazz (at least in North America).
The tempo picks up again with Kirtley's Movimento, originally a guitar solo but very effective as a duet with percussion. The intertwining of the guitar lines is virtuosic and yet it is possible to hear how it might sound on a single guitar - with a very good guitarist, that is. Kirtley's third song, Starry Skies slows the tempo again. I will mention at this point how well paced this CD is. There is a fine sense of balance so that with all of the changes in speed the whole set seems remarkably consistent. As with the smooth harmony and flowing melodies, there is nothing jarring here.
The Look of Love is virtually a Pat Kirtley guitar solo, with Standefer augmenting the percussion with "mysterious shaker accents." An outstanding arrangement. Next, Batucada was written and recorded by Luis Bonfa, but Kirtley's influence here is the recording by Chet Atkins and Lenny Breau on their album Standard Brands. Standefer makes the homage obvious by beginning his resonator guitar solo as an exact replica of Atkins'.
Alone With You is another Kirtley tune filled with lush harmonies and a wistful melody. Though not written specifically for this CD, it nonetheless fits seamlessly beside classics such as Samba De Orfeu, which gets everyone swinging along again with a true samba from the 1958 soundtrack of Black Orpheus. Guitar and percussion lines mesh into a fine mosaic structure.
Kirtley's moody Tango in the Rain ends the CD with an introspective air of mild melancholy. The separate strands of the instruments are here woven into a single tapestry of feeling, complex but constant.
This entire CD is marked by subtlety of effect and suavity of performance. Everything is in fine balance: melody and harmony, lead and accompaniment, guitars and percussion, original and cover songs, nylon- and steel-stringed instruments. It is hard to say enough good things about this CD because it does not lend itself to hyperbole. It is simply an excellent performance of excellent songs in a wonderful genre of music.
My advice: Buy it.
You can listen to a clip from One Note Samba and buy this CD from John Standefer's web site