The true disciples of John Fahey share several traits: a sense of eclecticism and adventure, a droll sense of humor, a thirst for musical depth and variety, and a great willingness to take chances in the name of their art. Frankly, there are not many who meet these qualifications in the measure required. Many are called, but few return the call. One of those few is Richard Gilewitz, who, in the past, has drawn with great success from the Fahey and Kottke well, notably on his previous and quite fine disc Synapse Collapse. His third and latest disc, The Music of David Walbert, ventures further afield as he draws from the work of his teacher and friend, Mr. Walbert, to create a new musical path for himself… and us.
Walbert, a fourth generation musician and composer from the southeast, is a classical guitarist who has played with symphonies both in the U.S. and abroad. All of that sounds well enough, but here is where we get to the part about adventure, depth and variety. Gilewitz, as one might expect given the previous references to Fahey, does not play classical guitar, at least not on record. No, Richard Gilewitz plays in the proud tradition of the six and twelve string guitar, steel strings that is. "Wires," as Doc Watson calls them. Whatever you want to call them, they are a far cry from the gut or nylon strings of the classical guitarist. On this recording, Gilewitz takes Walbert's tunes, all composed for the classical guitar and translates them to the steel string guitar. What, you may ask, is the big deal? For starters, the style, feel, approach, and technique are very different between classical and steel string guitars. Think about it, how many times have you seen someone go between classical and steel string guitars on stage, much less on record. It is rare. They are different beasts. At one level, then, we have an interesting parlor trick. And the next level?
From the first moment, you can hear the classical guitar elements, but with the added sonority of steel strings. The clarity of tone (not muted as the classical tone would be) allows the music to sing and sustain in a way that you simply would not hear otherwise. On Dance and E Piece, the first and eighth numbers, classical techniques are apparent, combined with some harmonic elements that cannot be played on a classical guitar, making both pieces memorable. The second piece, Lullabye, might well have been played by Duane Allman in another life. It swings. Walbert has said that Gilewitz is the only person or student he has ever seen who can smile while playing in a minor key. You get the sense of what he might mean in Em Piece where a certain melancholy is followed by something which might be called impish. Both Song for Margot, a piece for the composer's wife, and Tremolo Piece have a flamenco flavor owing to Gilewitz's application of related picking techniques. On the other hand, a French Impressionist might have composed Prelude and Prelude No. 2. Walbert, like his student, Gilewitz, is nothing if not diverse and eclectic. The title of I Am Eaten by Sharks implies that Gilewitz is not the only one who has an admiration for Kottke. The opening of the piece has that 12-string beat that the man from Minnesota is known for. The final piece, Nocturn, sees a bass signature underlying a haunting melody. Generally, these are quite short pieces, but Gilewitz (and Walbert) bring so much to the material that multiple listenings will be rewarded with revelations both small and large.
Clearly, one of the objectives that Richard Gilewitz has here is to honor and provide further recognition to Walbert. He succeeds in that upon hearing this disc, you very much want to hear how Walbert himself might present these pieces on classical guitar. One can only hope that his now out of date recording of these pieces will be reissued soon. Perhaps the next challenge for Gilewitz is to take some of his steel string compositions and translate them for classical guitar. This is third disc that Richard Gilewitz has made (and the third to have included a Walbert tune or two). One can only hope that there will be many more from both of these artists.
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