Dean MagrawRHR 116
Red House Records
A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange written
When a guitarist cites string players like Jimmy Nolens (from James Brown's band), Sarod master Ali Akbar Khan, Norman Blake and Wes Montgomery as influences, an eclectic approach is expected. And perhaps one is also justified in wondering if the artist will be able to forge a personal style out of such heterogeneous influences. When the guitarist in question is Dean Magraw, however, one does not have to worry.
Listening to his second solo CD, it quickly becomes clear that we're in for something special. This is completely original music that defies all attempts at categorization. Magraw is not a talented guitarist showing off his chops and influences, but a mature artist creating breathtakingly beautiful and complex music. This is to be expected from a man who has played with everyone from Brother Jack McDuff to Nigel Kennedy and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, as he draws inspiration from a variety of sources. The careful listener is likely to find traces of folk, rock, and Indian music, as well as a lot of jazzy interplay in much of his work. The songs, however, never lose their sense of purpose and stylistic unity.
On his first solo album, 1994's Broken Silence, Magraw mixed his self-penned tunes with compositions by Charles Mingus and Don Cherry. This time around all tracks but one are his own, clearly demonstrating his growth as a composer. Ranging from gentle pieces like Dawn Star to jazzy melodies like the percussion-driven Circuits, the themes serve as starting points for stunning improvisations by Magraw and his ensemble, and are uniformly memorable in themselves.
On the title track the guitarist first lays down a beautiful melody line over Anthony Cox's acoustic bass, and then quickly jumps into an extended solo coaxing forth a series of delightful and surprising sounds from his acoustic guitar without ever travelling too far from the melody. This is a track that will stay with you for a long time.
Likewise, the almost Irish-sounding Trippin' in Eden has Magraw tossing off vocal melodies and unexpected harmonies over a bed of innovative rhythms. Kitchen Man and Shadow Dancer highlight gentler, less flashy playing. And by the time the slow and majestetic Nova Scotia rounds things off we have journeyed through a diverse yet very personal musical landscape.
But breathtaking technique and original compositions are only two thirds of the story. This release also highlights Magraw as bandleader. In addition to the previously mentioned Cox, he is supported by long-time musical partner Peter Ostroushko on mandolin, Jim Anton on fretless bass, Marc Anderson on percussion, David King on drums and Jimmy Higgins on bodhran, all of whom contribute great moments of improvisational beauty. At times there is an almost telepathic interplay between the musicians as they turn the compositions inside out in their attempts to twist every melodic nuance from them. In the process they create one of the best instrumental albums of 1998. This is definitely an album whose influence on contemporary acoustic music will be felt for a long time.
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Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz