Guitarist Doug Munro is one of those guys highly respected in the jazz realm. He's worked with Dr. John, Mike Brecker, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and others; released 14 albums as a leader and has been featured on many more; done orchestrations for movie; and teaches as Director Emeritus at The Conservatory of Music at Purchase College yet is still far from a household name. That's just the way the music biz operates, y'all, and often the best in the field are the least known. However, aspiring, woodshedding, and even professional musicians who cannot attend his college classes or who can access the guy only through recordings and want to know how on Earth he accomplishes some of what he does now have that chance in Loop Mania!, an instructional video packed to the gills with three hours worth of 6 songs played live and then deconstructed inside deep technical analysis. Each multi-level cut was created on the spot through the near miracle of loop recording, and Munro shows you how you can do it too.
Over a decade ago, I covered the first CalProg Festival and therein caught Neal Morse (Spock's Beard) solo, employing a loop device so he could play as a one-man band. The performance was impressive, but the technology has gotten even more sophisticated since those days. Munro illustrates just how lushly a single player now can layer himself and do so live, no overdubs, no editing, no takebacksies. The gent is so familiar with operating in this fashion that it becomes overwhelming. How such a thing can even be done at all is perplexing and revelatory, not to mention deceptively subtle, yet Doug maintains a cool demeanor from start to finish. I mean, the focused awareness in handling all the complicated maneuvers requires a coolness of intense focus that belies the mental machinery whirring away as the instrumentalist puts in, removes, and suspends various loops to create full, living, breathing compositions.
Munro's closed-body acoustic/electric guitar reminds me some of some then-experimental models back in the 70s (I think Jackie King was playing one in his Night Bird days), instruments that carried sweet mellow tones not caught up in the tinny high register Ovations were and still are famous for: killer brightness, sure, but a tad thin and too much modulated into the higher reaches even in the lower strings. Thus, the sound here is full and well centered. However, the bulk of the DVD is intended for musicians and, between chart printouts, the half-hour coverage of each cut carefully explained, and other whatnots, you're getting an education that would cost hundreds of dollars were you to even be able to find and pay him as a private instructor…IF he could even take you on. Ahhhhh, the benefits of modern tech! And Munro really explains everything, so much so that you're going to be pausing the DVD all the time while carrying out exactly what he's outlining.
Purely as a mere listener, you get about a half hour's worth of straight renditions and, if you're into such things as a non-musician, a really good ground-level look at how such music (but in fact all music) is made, replete with innumerable inside tips and anecdotes. If you're a muso, though, Loop Mania! is an outrageous bargain because for the +/- $20 you'll pay for it, you're getting heavy-duty tutoring that you can play and re-play endlessly. I've mentioned how rock journalists are in stiff competition with DVD labels like Pride and Sexy Intellectual, imprints eating we critics' dinners (hooray for that!; whatever forwards meritocratic ends, I'm all for), and DVDs like Munro's exist in the same populist zone and have been around for a while but not very often as generous as this nor as in-depth. Were a musician, I'd be buying these things like candy, ending up very nicely rounded. As a critic, though, I learned a few things I never knew and got to see up close what goes into the making of an artform I love.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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