Gordon Lightfoot is a legendary guitarist-composer who loves to make the audience groan during asides, which used to consist mainly of bad jokes, though his most recent DVD is devoid of such, perhaps dropping the tradition. Leo Kottke, as one would presume, is abstract and sardonic in mirthful segues from song to song. Richard Gilewitz follows in that small tradition of players who like to entertain the audience while retuning or perhaps just providing friendly patter. He alternates between outré personal run-ins and slightly macabre offhand incidents, pretty damned funny, anecdotes pregnant with ironies that take on added dimensions as they're pondered. The field could do with a lot more of this.
On the other hand, that's not why he releases CDs, though fans clamor for the barbed wit, as the guy's a marvelous fingerstyle instrumentalist, solidly in the Kottke tradition, a soloist needing no accompaniment, indelibly impressing the listener with the possibilities of an individual's acumen. After the far-too-long deluge of gooey New Age players in a cornucopia of enervations and first-year recitals, Gilewitz is helping re-establish traditions of solid musicianship and daunting execution, a milieu that passed into senescence 20 years ago.
Those who think the wizardry they hear in studio albums must be the result of infinite board tweaking are invited to listen as Gilewitz proves otherwise, unleashing nimble dexterity from the opening moments, pouring forth cascades of chords, notes, sparkles, counter-rhythms, and melodies-within-melodies. On four songs, he's accompanied by ace mandolin player Radim Zenkl, trading off lead and rhythm duties. When they're in town, the California Guitar Trio likes to catch Gilewitz in performance whenever they can. So it's not like he's just another cat who wandered in from the cold. The composer has earned his respect the hard way, through a solid dedication to the instrument, its endless subtleties and possibilities.
The usual suspects come in for veneration: Kottke, Fahey, Scrivenor, Sor, Cooder, accompanied by a number of Gilewitz originals, though all blend as though from a single mind. Thus, it can be said that the guitarist is not exactly deficit in the cerebral department…and perhaps he'd consider donating a few brain scrapings to the rest of the market? It could use them.
Live has a solid 45 minutes of play time, but I wish there'd been the full 80 that CDs are capable of. No matter how often this style is issued, I can't get enough, and this gentleman's thoroughly engrossing. His fretboard convolutions are beatific and the transcendent quality of having so damn much going on in such a "minimal" context is stupefying. The duets with Zenkl only multiply the effect. When you're tired of incessantly barred power chords but don't want stripped-down soporifics, this is just what the doctor ordered...if, that is, the doctor's a bit of a wisecracking loon and likes to practice his art well outside moribund norms.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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