Born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Stephen Paul apprenticed in Spain for four years under Andres Segovia, who bequeathed upon this protégé the professional name Esteban. Esteban's first new release since 2003 is not a convenient repackaging of previously recorded music; he recorded new versions of favorites from his repertoire, from Spanish dances to familiar ABBA and Beatles songs, instead.
On its surface, some of this might sound too comfortable and genteel. There's no denying the quality of Esteban's musicianship, but "Here Comes the Sun tries so hard to sound cheerful and bright that it's almost depressing, and he turns "Fernando into a ballad so soft that it sounds more like Muzak than music.
His march through Del Shannon's prototypical rocker "Runaway energetically kicks out the jams, at least, and other tracks prove even more rewarding. His strumming and chording hands seem complete blurs in the showstopper "Fuego Malagueña, an update that burns through one of his most famous originals ("Malagueña ), at its climax pure carnival magic. "Alicante rips up the joint in a more traditional Latin jazz style, including a vibrant percussion and piano break. "Mediterana captures a very different mood: His Middle Eastern guitar sound intertwines with flute, jointly intersecting Indian and Arabic music, each note gyrating against an aggressive rhythm that pounds it right back into the incandescent melody.
"Only Love, his only solo piece, is full of empty space and a longing for beauty so profound that it hurts.
Even though his razor-sharp, impeccably timed guitar runs almost dare your ears to keep pace, Esteban doesn't project the enormous ego of other singer/songwriter/ guitarists who go by a single name (or symbol). He quite often, and quite comfortably, shares the spotlight with other soloists on these new recordings. The violin (played by his daughter, Theresa Paul) dances within the soft caress of his acoustic guitar, lost in the romance of "Besame Mucho. Trumpet players Jessee McGuire and Benjamin Paul (relation unknown) blaze to blister like Icarus the soundscapes of "Fuego Malagueña and "Alicante.
Personnel: Esteban: guitars; Teresa Paul: violin; Rodney Alejandro: keyboards, programming; Oskar
Cartaya: bass; Paul Gonzalez: drums; Fausto Cuevas: percussion; Benjamin Paul: trumpet;
Jessee McGuire: trumpet; Robert Brock: keyboards; Joe Morris: drums, percussion; Gary
Gillespie: bass; Jerry Donato: flute.