Sometimes the simplest pleasures can be the most fulfilling. British Guitarist Rob Koral understands that and, with Sleeping With Angels
, has delivered a recording that, in its lack of assumption, captures one’s attention with its elegant clarity and sheer tenderness.
Much of the recording consists of solo guitar interpretations of well-known standards, informed by Joe Pass’ Virtuoso recordings; but unlike Pass, Koral keeps his formidable technique in check and just under the surface, with straightforward readings that go directly to the essence of the material. And, on occasion, Koral’s blues roots are strongly evident. He has a lush, sustaining tone that gives significance to even a single held note. With two versions of “Moon River”—one on nylon-string guitar and the other on electric—he demonstrates the ability to make best use of the sonorities of the individual instruments. Clearly tone is of paramount consideration in Koral’s approach to interpretation.
On Koral’s own compositions he becomes slightly more ambitious. On two tracks he is supplemented by a warm string synthesizer, creating a richer landscape; on others Zoë SchwarZ’s Norma Winstone-like wordless improvisations provide an interesting counterpoint to Koral’s own playing, which manages to be both supportive and on equal footing. “Gabriel’s Army” in particular, which mixes multiple vocal and guitar tracks, creates an interesting texture; while Koral’s playing is nothing like Ralph Towner’s, his use of classical guitars gives this something of an ECM feel.
By mixing mainstream standards with originals that are farther away from straight-ahead jazz, combining elements of classical, blues and folk music, Koral creates a diverse programme that traverses a variety of moods; but the underlying feeling is one of introspection and poignancy. The only tracks that don’t feel at home on the record are the two where Koral enlists SchwarZ and Sue Hawker to sing actual lyrics. By focusing the listener’s attention away from the subtleties of the instruments and more overtly on the vocals it detracts from the overall ambience. While Koral’s interspersing of solo guitar on nylon-string or electric, and use of multi-tracking, strings and wordless voice all feel part of the same overall concept, the two vocal tracks tend to take away from the recording’s singular focus.
Still, the two vocal tracks are not enough to deter from the overall beauty of the recording. With Sleeping With Angels Koral demonstrates a spontaneity that belies a deeper purpose. Even though most of the programme was unplanned and consisted of first or second takes, there is a clear musical arc to be found. The whole recording hangs together as a whole—and if Koral is not a well-known name, he should be.
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