Crystal-clear guitar is center stage on these two releases that feature experienced craftsmen artfully exposing the country and classical feel inherent in nylon strings. Ken Hatfield's String Theory is a classical gas dosed with sweet Appalachian honey, while Rolf Sturm's Shawangunk is a deft chordal/melodic encounter that reveals its spirit like a brilliant Hudson Valley morn.
Water Street Music
Whether it is the Dead's "Ripple, played at a relaxed leisurely pace, an intriguingly swinging version of Herbie Hancock's classic "Watermelon Man, or personal compositions that speak of people, places and events, Rolf Sturm strums and picks with just the right touch. Comfortable in multiple milieus, in addition to fronting his own modern country group, Sturm has played with the Knitting Factory/Tzadik crew and been part of klezmer, tango and bluegrass projects.
For Shawangunk, he hopped on the thruway and headed north to the Catskills for some "country" re-inspiration to present a varied hour of new takes on well-known tunes and sweet, fresh material, all featuring the pure-as-mountain-snow sound of his nylon strings. "Egberto pays tribute to Brazilian instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti with a pretty melody and the Latin-tinged "O Galo does the same for pianist Michel Camilo, while guitarist Jim Hall's "Down From Antigua is recast as "Down From the Hallway, with a breezy picked melody. Sturm's personal reflections like the haltingly beautiful "Kant Strasse, innocently lovely "Green Arches and touchingly composed "Oh Father, "Margie, "Alexander and "Earl Jean are standouts where his crystalline chord voicings intermesh with enchanting melodies.
Arthur Circle Music
While Sturm may have gone north for his muse, Hatfield reaches down south to Appalachia to gather his. All four suites that comprise String Theory feature an immaculate, beautifully captured, acoustically resonant sound. Hatfield accompanies himself on dobro to give the introductory "Gospel According to Sam its down-home character. The folksy expressions of the guitarist's father gave rise to this three-part opener whose initial section, "The Word, begins with a decidedly country edge as dobro and guitar sweetly duet. "Redemption is more soulfully Spanish and this selection's closer has the "Prodigal Son returning home but with a decidedly classical bent.
"Snowhill Variations, inspired by the 18th Century harmonic theory of Pennsylvania clergyman Johann Beissel, presents twelve solo variations on an initial theme. Each variation successively reworks the classical melody by varying ornamentation, harmony and rhythm, ending up with a softly swinging samba. "Borges and I is an effecive presentation of seven musical miniatures, each inspired by a separate short story penned by Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, while the title cut dovetails mandolin and guitar for a whimsical look at science and art. Hatfield effortlessly make his Buscarino guitar ring like a bell as he conveys the fascinating stories behind these multi-part selections.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Ripple; Days Of Wine And Roses; Green Arches; P.S. Prudence; Watermelon Man; Margie; Alexander; Winter Solstice; O Galo; Egberto; Earl Jean; Oh Father; Nauset Bay; D's Dance; Sing Song; Down From The Hallway; Kant Strasse; Royal Sushi.
Personnel: Rolf Sturm: guitar.
Tracks: The Gospel According to Sam: The Word, Redemption, Prodigal Son; Snowhill Variations: Theme, Variations 1-12; String Theory: Quirks and Quarks, The Ties That Bind, Sparticles; Borges & I: Delia Elena San Marco, Mutaciones, The Zahir, The Book of Sand, Argumentum Ornithologicum, Averroes' Search, El Otro.
Personnel: Ken Hatfield: classical guitar, dobro, mandolin.