Friday, November 11, 2011

Echolyn Recording Sessions Continue: Bringing In the Strings!

Echolyn continues work on their new studio album. They recently posted short video clips featuring Chris Buzby leading a string quartet through a recording session (Chris is the keyboardist; he is also a career music teacher and does many of the arrangements for the band). This is a good sign, as usually recording the session musicians is done toward the final stages of the recording process! I'm looking forward to hearing this album.

For many years Echolyn has been one of my favorite new progressive rock bands. They mix jazz, rock, and classical composition techniques in a perfect blend for my ears. I most highly recommend these three albums [links go to band's album pages where you can hear full songs! (except Mei)]:

As the World: In 1995 Echolyn actually got signed by Sony music and recorded this album while under contract. The deal went sour, as Sony decided they didn't know what to do with the band. Incredibly complex, jazzy, polyharmonic and polyrhythmic, with occasional string and woodwind sections. A perfect introduction, and a musical highlight. In 2005 the band was finally able to reissue the album themselves.

Cowboy Poems Free (2000): After the debacle with Sony, the band managed to continue with this self-released title. A stripped-down sound (although reasonably complex in a mature way) with a unique concept. This album is a genre unto itself: Americana Prog, offering historic vignettes interspersed with musical "poems." The album has recently been remastered and reissued with a marvelous new album cover.

Mei (2002): their next album featured a single 50-minute track scored for band plus string quartet and woodwinds. A bit heavier and darker than earlier albums, it depicts a drive through the country side...or it depicts passing through the trials of life...or a trial of faith. You decide.

Their most recent album, The End is Beautiful (2005), was unfortunately too dark and discouraging for me to be able to appreciate fully. Please note that my sensitivity meter is quite mild; this isn't death metal! Or even close to it. Musically it is excelent as always, hard hitting, jazzy, with a horn section added to several tracks. But I am easily affected by the music I listen to, and I get depressed if I listen to moody music, so there are many very talented bands (or specific albums by certain bands) that I don't listen to very often because of their subject matter.

I'm sure a lot has changed in the 6 years that have passed since the release of their last album. I had the privilege of meeting several of the band members at NEARfest several years ago (although they were not performing that year). They explained that the album had been an important step for them as a group in moving through life, and that writing and recording it had been cathartic. So I'm hoping that Echolyn has moved on from that stage of their development and that their newest album will not be quite as dark, thematically, as its immediate predecessor.

And to not end this post on a down note, I'll post a video from Echolyn's early years that I just found this week. It's a rough live recording of my favorite early Echolyn track: The Meaning and the Moment. Feel free to skip through the first 2 minutes of onstage banter and detuned noodling; the proper song begins right at 2:07.

See my previous post about Echolyn with additional video footage.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Classical Guitarist Peter Fletcher—Coming Soon to a Library Near You!

I just returned home from a wonderful free concert at my local public library, of all places, offered by classical guitarist Peter Fletcher. I first learned of the concert a month ago when I saw a sign posted in the library foyer and decided I definitely wanted to go, but I also looked him up on the Internet. I was surprised that he was not a local musician, as I had first supposed. From his website:

PETER FLETCHER began guitar study at the age of seven under classical guitar instructor, John Sutherland. In 1980 classical guitarist Jose Tomas, Andres Segovia's teaching assistant in Spain, held a week long master class in Atlanta, GA. Peter Fletcher was the youngest student to perform in the class, playing music by Bach and Carcassi.

In December, 1983, he made his formal debut at the age of fifteen under the auspices of The Brasstown Concert Association in North Carolina. Wrote the critic of The Cherokee Scout, “He has technical facility but what one remembers about his playing is the nuances, the poetical phrasing, dynamic and tonal changes, his harmonics, his cadences.”

Fletcher furthered his studies in Master Classes with David Leisner, David Russell, Oscar Ghiglia and Pepe Romero. As a performer in the Christopher Parkening Master Class he was chosen to play in the student recital two consecutive years and, in 1988, the class was broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR). In 1990, the Music Teacher’s National Association (MTNA) awarded Fletcher a prize at its National Level Competition, performing Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco’s Concerto in D. In 1995, he received the Master of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music under Nicholas Goluses, and was twice the recipient of an Eastman Graduate Award.

In demand as a performer in cultural venues throughout the country, Mr. Fletcher has been invited to give recitals at...[impressively long list of well known venues including Carnegie Hall].

Peter Fletcher believes in carrying on the Segovia tradition of expanding the comparatively small classical guitar repertoire. He plans to do this by transcribing from other instruments (mainly the piano) and also by commissioning new music.

Interests outside of music include reading and cross-country running. He lives in New York City.

I was amazed. Here was a world class musician coming to play a free concert in our local library. It didn't add up. I did a search for his name on the Internet and found something impressive: Peter Fletcher performs similar library concerts all around the country. What a nice thing to do. He certainly doesn't have to do this. Perhaps it's a unique way to see the country, or perhaps it helps him stay in shape in between his bigger concerts. Sure, he sells a few CDs at each gig, but that probably barely covers his travel and hotel expenses. I do certainly appreciate his generosity. Of course now I wanted to attend the concert even more.

As for the concert itself, it was wonderful. My favorite parts were an arrangement of the "Solveig's Song" from Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite, as well as Fletcher's own arrangements of two movements of another Grieg work (I remembered which right up until I sat down to write this), and two pieces from Ravel's Mother Goose Suite ("Pavane of Sleeping Beauty" and "Empress of the Pagodas"). Unfortunately he hasn't yet recorded any of these favorites of mine, although the Grieg will be on his upcoming recording and I found a video of the Ravel "Pavane." He claims the other Ravel piece is too difficult to record, but it sure sounded great tonight! It certainly did seem technically challenging and unique, with a pentatonic sound to it and some unique guitar techniques employed to evoke oriental tones. I would love to hear it again.

After the show I went up with my parents (who attended the concert with me, along with one of my daughters) to buy some CDs, and he graciously thanked us for attending his concert. Imagine, him thanking US for attending.

I was surprised at the modest turnout. Perhaps people don't look at signs like I do; perhaps people don't take the time to look up visiting musicians on the Internet like I do. We showed up an hour early, because we were worried that the library isn't very big and here was a world-class musician coming to town for a free concert! But there was plenty of seating right up until 5 minutes before showtime, and there were only about 50 seats.

So look up his website, and check out your local library listings. He might be coming to a library near you! And you'll get a chance to hear a great guitarist in a comfortable, intimate setting for free. If not, you can at least watch some of his videos here, and more on his website, and even try out his CDs.