If I had to pick one word to describe Gene Bertoncini's luminous guitar playing, it would be "exquisite especially since my local dictionary offers five meanings of that word, all of which apply to Bertoncini's music: 1) marked by intricate and beautiful design or execution; 2) of such beauty or delicacy as to arouse delight; 3) excellent, flawless; 4) acutely perceptive or discriminating; and 5) intense, keen.
But there's more to say. (Isn't there always?) It's important to note that Quiet Now has exceptional clarity as well as warmth; apparently the newest technology (DSD, SACD) has resurrected the nuanced analog truthfulness that we once had to trade for shelf space. On this CD the guitar sounds both clean and refreshingly naturalistic.
As for the track list, it's as eclectic as Bertoncini himself. More interested in melody and meaning than genre, it's typical for him to juxtapose Strayhorn, Coltrane, Schumann, Puccini, and "The Streets of Laredo in the same set. ("Streets is part of the "Bang the Drum Slowly theme, and it sounds very Irish in Bertoncini's vision.) His acoustic guitar utterly transforms the familiar aria "Nessun Dorma, although his performance is just as moving and passionate as Pavarotti's.
Bertoncini's medleys highlight the commonalities between two compositionslike his pairing of Coltrane's "Giant Steps with Tadd Dameron's surprisingly compatible "On a Misty Night, the two Strayhorn pieces that bend and stretch in similar ways, and the pair of Bill Evans tunes that underscores that composer's wistful harmonies. Perhaps his training as an architect helps him focus on the basic elements of a tunecertainly he's known for paring away schmaltz and convention to expose underlying structure and flow. It may be no coincidence that Tom Jobim, another of our great melodists, also studied architecture. (He's represented here by his beautiful, lesser-known "Olha Maria. )
Whatever the occupational roots of this music, the serene purity of Quiet Now offers a perfect antidote to the day's jangly information overload. So does Bertoncini's first solo CD, Body and Soul (Ambient Records, 1999), which is also exquisite in all five senses of the word. [Note to the producers: do we have to wait another six years for the next one??]
Lush Life/Isfahan, My One and Only Love, Giant Steps/On a Misty Night, Traumerei, So in Love/The More I See You, Olha Maria, Quiet Now, Nessun Dorma, Waltz for Debbie/Very Early, Theme from
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