Posts Tagged ‘guitar’

Jimmy Wahlsteen 181st Songs Echoes CD of the Month for January

December 30, 2009

Swedish musician Jimmy Wahlsteen Channels Pop into Fingerstyle Guitar.

You can hear an Audio Version of this blog, with Jimmy Wahlsteen’s music.

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On the cover of his debut album, 181st Songs, Jimmy Wahlsteen just looks too stylish to be a fingerstyle guitar slinger.  GQ poses and an androgynous look aren’t the norm for the usual grizzled or blandly clean-cut anti-image approach favored by most fingerstyle players.  But then you hear the impressive technique and realize he isn’t like a lot of finger-style players anyway.

Wahlsteen has all the post-Michael Hedges guitar approaches down, including two-handed tapping, playing percussion on his guitar and more.  But this isn’t a simple guitar-picker’s anthem.  The Swedish born musician grew up as a fan of Kiss, and has spent the first part of his young career playing on pop music sessions. He brings a keen melodic ear and arranging sensibility to his music.  A song like “Suffice to Say” could be a pop ballad, with its song structure and use of electric guitar accents.

Wahlsteen can burn the house down with technique, which he does on “The Urge to Gossip,” a jazzy romp complete with horns, but he can also wax pastoral on “Carry Me,” a gentle song backed by a string trio. Wahlsteen doesn’t credit it on the album, but you can hear subtle processing effects in his playing.  He introduces “Rapid Eye Movement” with a delay sound reminiscent of U2‘s The Edge and on “You Gotta Run Real Fast to Stand Still,” he uses shimmering harmonics and electric guitar shadings that exhibit his open ended approach to finger-style guitar.

The title of the CD comes from the street on which Jimmy Wahlsteen lived in New York City, 181st Street. That’s where he wrote most of an album on which he does it all, even picking out the cut you’ll like best.  It’s called “It’s your Favorite.” Jimmy Wahlsteen’s 181st Songs is on Candyrat Records and it’s our favorite for January and it’s the Echoes CD of the Month.
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))
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Will Ackerman Then & Now: 5 Best CDs

August 6, 2009

Five Best Will Ackerman CDs

Will Ackerman @ Echoes

Will Ackerman @ Echoes

There are a few people of whom I can say, if not for them, I wouldn’t be here.  And that’s the case with Will Ackerman.  He founded Windham Hill Records, still a cornerstone of the music you hear on Echoes.  That would probably be enough, but he also launched the finger-style guitar renaissance.  It had already begun, as Will said in my liner notes to 41d1HFtQ2zL._SL500_AA240_A Quiet Revolution: 30 Years of Windham Hill Records: “You know there was a lot about that whole Takoma Records/John Fahey thing that was a beacon to me.” He meant that in terms of starting a label, but also, playing acoustic guitar. Fahey and Kottke opened the door, but Will Ackerman built the house.  His open-tuning approach is now dominant among finger-style guitar players.  But his influence has gone beyond that.  A new generation of rock musicians are listening to their parent’s record collections and bands like Balmorhea and Hammock cite him as an influence.

In Search of the Turtle\'s Navel I first heard Will Ackerman in 1975.  I was Music Director at WXPN in Philadelphia when I read a review of Will’s debut, The Search for the Turtle’s Navel in a radio trade sheet called Walrus.  I recall the album having a brown cover, before he changed it and the title for In Search of the Turtles’s Navel the next year. I’m not even sure it was even  Windham Hill Records yet.   Surprisingly, I didn’t meet Will until 1990 when we had the first of many extensive and wide-ranging interviews.  He’s been on Echoes many times since and has become a great friend of the show.

As we head toward our 20th anniversary, we’re listening back to some of the signature artists of Echoes.  On Friday, August 7, we’ll feature Will Ackerman: Then and Now.

Will has made a lot of records.  Surprisingly for an artist who has been recording for over three decades and whose early work is nothing if not seminal, I prefer his later and more mature recordings.  Sadly, most of his catalog is currently out of print, a criminal state of affairs for such a major artist.


Returning: Pieces for Guitar 1970-2004 1 Returning (2004)
In 2004, Will Ackerman went back and recorded many of his signature tunes.  And you know what?  They sound a lot better now.  Cynics might view this as a ploy to retain control of his catalog, which since it was his first non-Windham Hill recording, it kind of was.  But his playing and the recording quality are sharper here than on those old Windham Hill favorites and Ackerman’s compositions have rarely sounded more poignant.   Returning sounds like your memory of that music.

51e-Yg-Z9CL._SL500_AA240_2 Hearing Voices (2001)
As I said in my Billboard magazine review in 2001, this is a brave album.   Ackerman enlists a group of singers including Samite, Happy Rhodes, Curtis King and Heather Rankin, to intone his quiet meditations.  Sometimes with English lyrics, just as often in Native tongues and imaginary dialects, Hearing Voices has a hymn-like quality.  It also features Ackerman’s only electric guitar playing on record at the time.

R-150-1350675-12119164073 Past Light (1983)
This is the earliest album in my list and another departure for Ackerman.  He weaves his guitar between the yearning lyricon playing of the late-Chuck Greenberg from Shadowfax, the tone-bending bass of Michael Manring, guitarist Michael Hedges and a few other WH stalwarts as well as Kronos Quartet.  A CD of intimate ruminations and conversations.

The Opening of Doors 4 The Opening of Doors (1992)
I really liked Will Ackerman’s music from the beginning, but this was the album that made me a fan.  I was seduced by Ackerman’s plaintive songs and simple but ornamented motifs that come across like sky paintings.  Ackerman surrounds himself with keyboardist Tim Story, oboist Paul McCandless and it even features metal monster guitarist Buckethead (Guns ‘n’ Rose, Bill Laswell).

Sound of Wind Driven RainSound of Wind Driven Rain (1998)
Sound of Wind Driven Rain has the familiar earmarks of earlier Ackerman albums with wistful  melodies flowing over a finger-picked trellis of arpeggios.  In addition to the usual accomplices — violinist Charlie Bisharat, oboist Paul McCandless and bassist Michael Manring — is Ugandan musician, Samite. His soaring voice lifts Ackerman’s “Hawk Dreaming” into a soulful hymn.  “Unconditional,”  played on a parlor guitar given him by Michael Hedges, has that timeless introspection that has made his music so enduring.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Echoes August CD of the Month: Chris Bocast & MJCatalin’s Stratagem

July 29, 2009

fbea51c88da09369db8d0210.L._SL500_AA240_ American guitarist Chris Bocast teams with Romanian electronic artist MJCatalin in meeting of ambient and progressive music

You can hear an audio version of this blog with Chris Bocast & MJCatalin’s music here.

Chris Bocast was all set to be a rockin’ guitarist.  He played with rock groups in San Francisco and toured as a member of The Mission U.K. in the 1980s.  He nearly broke through with a new wave band called Tokyo Vogue that you could’ve slotted between Duran Duran and A Flock of Seagulls visually and musically.

Chris Bocast has changed his hairstyle and definitely changed his music since then. After Tokyo Vogue went out of vogue, Chris began making ambient music.  In the 1990s he played in an ambient duo called Temporary Temple and released a song called “Strandlooper” on the From Here To Tranquility Volume 3 collection.  In 2003 he put out a beatless CD of shimmering guitar and keyboard spaces called Through the Airlock.  But for his new CD, he wanted to up the groove factor, so he had a virtual collaboration with Romanian drummer and electronic artist Cătălin Pîntea, a.k.a. MJCatalin.

Through the Airlock Chris Bocast: I had posted some music on  He heard it and contacted me and I listened to his stuff and I was going, “This is the drumming approach that I have been looking for ages, where it’s, you know heavy emphasis on electronics, freely embracing effects and textures,” and so I said, “Well, you know let’s try something.”  And the first thing we did was actually on Stratagem.

The two artists never met face-to-face, but you’d never know that from the ensemble feel of Stratagem.   It’s a CD of expansive compositions, shifting through dramatic movements and dynamic electro-orchestral builds.   There’s a progressive rock element that you can hear in the Steve Hackett and Genesis derived cadences of “To Cross the Sea of Clouds.”

Stratagem has another meaning for Chris Bocast.  Toward the end of recording, he suffered a hand injury that put him out of guitar playing commission for a while.

Chris Bocast: That happened when the album was about 90% done fortunately, but there was one solo, when I was getting my hand back, kind of a real out there kind of a solo at the end where I was just like, “I am back!”  You know.  I went for a kind of abstract WEEEOOOOOO kind of stuff and and as it turned out that was like one of my favorite songs off the record [“Caelestis Caravel.”]

Stratagem, by Chris Bocast and MJCatalin is the August CD of the Month on Echoes and I’ll be featuring it on Monday’s show.  You can read a full review here. This has been an Echo Location, Soundings for New Music.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Echo Location: Bill Frisell

July 16, 2009

A Different kind of Americana

You can hear an audio version of this Blog with Bill Frisell’s music here.

Disfarmer Guitarist Bill Frisell is a genre unto himself.  His music flows through interlocking veins of jazz improvisation and harmonies, country melodicism and twang, chamber music strings and electronic dissonances.  On his latest album, Disfarmer, Bill Frisell takes his Fender Telecaster into a country chamber music setting with pedal steel guitar, violin and upright bass.  Disfarmer was an obscure portrait photographer who worked in the 1930s and 40s.

BILL FRISELL: He basically lived in this real small town called Heber Springs in Arkansas and he had a little photography studio on the main street and would just sit outside and ask people if they wanted to have their photo taken.  And he was kind of a loner kind of guy, he didn’t have friends and I guess he was kind of intimidating, people didn’t really like him and it didn’t seem like he liked them much either.

familyNevertheless he got intimate photographs. Like a rustic Richard Avedon, he framed his subjects so that their hard-scrabble lives are revealed in every line on their faces.  You can hear that in Bill Frisell’s music as well.

Bill Frisell says his country sound was always there, although not quite evident in his own music or his work in the ear-bending dissonances of John Zorn’s Naked City group. But in the mid- 1990s, he went to Music City and recorded the deeply country inflected album, Nashville.

BILL FRISELL: I went there and I played with a banjo player and a mandolin player and a Dobro player and that really got me thinking about it a lot more where I wanted to research that music more.

Bill Frisell’s country experiences led him towards a more profound understanding of music’s deeper connections.

BILL FRISELL: Whatever we call this stuff, blues and jazz and country and rock, if you go back far enough, there’s some point where you can’t make those divisions in it and that’s what really gets me excited I think.

Bill Frisell’s Disfarmer is out July 21st on Nonesuch Records.  You can see Disfarmers photo online. I’ll have a more extended interview with the guitarist on Monday.  This has been an Echo Location.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Echo Location: Leo Abrahams May CD of the Month

April 29, 2009

A Brian Eno accomplice looks to the pastoral past on The Grape and the Grain.

You can hear an audio version of this blog with Leo Abrahams’ music here.

grage-cvrLeo Abrahams is one of those musicians, you may not know, but you have heard him.  He’s performed with singer Imogen Heap, alternative folk artist Ed Harcourt, played on the film score to Ocean’s 11 and appears on the latest Paul Simon CD, Surprise.  That last one comes from a fortuitous meeting with ambient pioneer and producer, Brian Eno.

BRIAN ENO:    I like him and his playing very much.  I spotted him in a guitar shop trying out a guitar, the first guitar player I’ve ever seen in a guitar shop who wasn’t playing “Stairway to Heaven,” so I thought he must be good.

honeytrap-cvrEno invited Abrahams to his studio and he played on the album, Drawn from Life.  They’ve worked together ever since, including a forthcoming collaboration with Herbie Hancock.  But Abrahams also has his own music vision.  Inspired by his work on the 2003 film score to Code 46 he created his own album, Honey Trap.   Leo Abrahams can be an earbending experimenter as he is on the album, Scene Memory, but much of his music has a wistful charm.  Abrahams, the ultimate modernist, says that comes from folk music.

LEO ABRAHAMS:    I really love folk music.  I love the honesty of it and the fact that it’s not really affected by fashion too much and that it’s not about the ego, you know, it’s more, it’s reaching out to something else which is, in popular music, I think quite a rare thing.

Leo Abrahams

Leo Abrahams

You can hear that sound on Leo Abrahams new CD, The Grape and the Grain.  It’s a blissfully nostalgic album from a musician who has pushed the electric edges of his guitar.  With hurdy-gurdy,  cello and a medieval lute called the bandura,  it sounds like pastoral music from another age.  The Grape and the Grain is a quaint album, except for that electric guitar.

The Grape and the Grain is on the Just Music label.  It’s  the May CD of the Month on Echoes and we’ll be featuring that CD next week on the show. This has been an Echo Location, Soundings for new Music. You can read a complete review of The Grape and the Grain here.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Echoes March Top 25: David Darling Tops

April 3, 2009

David Darling Tops Echoes  Top 25 for March

Prayer For Compassion This year is already shaping up to be a diverse and unusual one with fantastic, innovative music coming from unlikely sources.   David Darling’s Prayer for Compassion topping the list, is of course, no surprise.  He was our Echoes CD of the Month for March and he’s been an Echoes favorite from the beginning.  But also infiltrating the top ten are relative unknowns like the chamber world folk of the Beyman Bros, the chamber rock of Balmorhea, the ambient rock of bassist Erik Scott,  the ambient chamber music of Matthew Shoening and space ambience of Solar Fields.

Other Life Morgan Doctor’s Other Life, already at #3, will top the list in April since she’s our Echoes CD of the Month right now.  At #4, The Beyman Brothers are an odd trio of studio dog and keyboardist CJ Vanston, Drala guitarist and “Midnight at the Oasis” composer David Nichtern and filmmaker Christopher Guest, best know for Spinal Tap, Best of Show and A Mighty Wind.  Look for an Echo Location with them next week and a deeper interview feature April 13 when they talk about a music that isn’t a joke.

Balmorhea leaped to the fore at #6 with their CD All Is Wild, All Is Silent.  We’ve been fans of this group since their debut and they have a live track on our latest CD, Vapor Trails. Now others are finally picking up the thread on their third album.

A lot of acoustic guitarists on the list this month beginning with Forastiere at #2 followed by Antoine Dufour, Stefano Barone and Tony McManus.

Only five truly electric albums this month, but they include my favorite electronic disc this year, Solar FieldsMovements coming in at #9.    Magnus Birgerssonis Solar Fields has created a disc that has the atmosphere of vintage space music, but with a beautiful melodic sensibility and a sound design that’s more modern than retro.

So check out the rest of the March Top 25.  You’ll also find links to reviews, Echo Locations and podcasts of many of the artists and albums as well as the CDs themselves.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

John Martyn Passes

January 29, 2009

The Island Anthology [2-CD Set] British singer-songwriter John Martyn passed away this morning, January 29. He was 60.

I’ve drifted away from Martyn’s music over the years, but in the 1970s and early 80s, he was a favorite. He had a soft, slurred whiskey tinged voice that he coupled with finger-style melodies. Later on, he began using an Echoplex, an early looping and delay device based on audio tapes. Solid Air His 1973 album, Solid Air, was a classic, marrying Nick Drake-style personal meditations with even more expansive musical landscapes. There’s a very nice profile of him at the  on Wikipedia and the  BBC.

My own personal memory of John was seeing him at the Main Point in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania around 1975-1976.  He was the headliner on a four person bill with Ed Begley Jr, the comedian who later became an actor on St. Elsewhere, Kevin Roth, a dulcimer playing singer-songwriter, and Jamie Brockett, a charismatic folky. After three sets of laughs and charm, along comes John Martyn, pleasant in that gruff British, boozing way, but not pandering, plugging his guitar into an Echoplex and amp, and going headfirst into his elaborate, and largely improvised excursions. It was the music you could hear on his album, Live At Leeds. Live at Leeds and More Throughout his set, the folky audience walked out in a steady stream, until by the end it was just me, my college roommate, Mitch,  and a couple of others.  But John never let up and  I was completely enthralled.

He certainly didn’t lead the life of a Sunday’s Child, one of his album titles.

Thanks to for the heads-up.

Al Di Meola with New Music Live on Echoes

January 21, 2009
Al Di Meola at Echoes

Al Di Meola at Echoes

We often have musicians playing new music on Echoes, but when a legend like Al Di Meola drops some new compositions on us, that’s something of note.  If you don’t know about Al Di Meola, he came to renown with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever fusion group in the 1970s.  Over the next two decades he released a string of his own popular electric albums and then took an acoustic turn, first with the Guitar Trio featuring John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia and then with his own World Sinfonia group.  World Sinfonia mixed Di Meola’s passion for Argentinian tangos, along with Mediterranean music and improvisation.  His latest album with that band is La Melodia, with a quartet.  But now that group has expanded to a sextet including  musicians from Cuba, Italy, and Hungary.  And the music has gotten richer.

Al Di Meola's WOrld Sinfonia @ Echoes

Al Di Meola's World Sinfonia @ Echoes

I saw a great set by Di Meola’s World Sinfonia at a sold-out show at Sellersville Theater that was one of the best Di Meola shows I’ve witnessed.  Di Meola is a font of melody and he tries to cram as much as he can into his multi-movement songs, which even with just a six piece band of two guitars, two percussionists, accordion and bass, plays out like symphonies, albeit symphonies with rapid fire percussion.   Di Meola could be milking the 70s fusion nostalgia crowd, ala the Return to Forever Reunion Tour this past summer, but he’s always pushed forward with new music and concepts.  Fortunately, it’s been good music and concepts.

But I was even more delighted when Di Meola and crew descended on Echoes in the midst of a January snow storm.  With an entourage that included an engineer, road manager and Di Meola’s wife Leyla and youngest daughter, Valentina, they occupied every room of the Echoes complex, jumping on our WiFi network to chat with friends and family around the world.

When they finally entered the Echoes living room, they unfolded three long compositions that were fueled by both passion and playfulness.  It’s astounding to be in a 14×12 foot room with six virtuoso players going at it full tilt.  When a sound proofing tile dropped on percussionist Pèter Kaszàs, he didn’t drop a beat.  When a light fixture suddenly disconnected from the ceiling and swung into bassist Victor Miranda Rodgriguez, he just lifted it off his instrument and kept going. The vicissitudes of an Echoes Living Room Concert.

inmilanoI thought they’d play music from his latest album, La Melodia, but Al wanted to hear his new music.  They played three new tunes, “Siberiana,” “Paramour’s Lullaby” and “Michaelangelo’s 7th Child.”  All of them were meticulous works with Di Meola’s rapid fire, Spanish inflected picking, spread out across a bed of percussion and the layered harmonies of accordionist Fausto Beccalossi.  Al even plays his new Paul Reed Signature Prism electric guitar on “Paramour’s Lullaby.”  The electric is something of a rarity in the World Sinfonia context.

After the performance the entire band listened to the playback, something that is actually unusual for living room concert recordings, and Al kept nodding his head in approval, smiling as he heard his new works recorded for the first time.

You can hear why when we run Al Di Meola’s World Sinfonia live on Echoes, Tuesday, January 27, with many Echoes stations running it on the following weekend.  Echoes On-Line subscribers will be able to listen to it from Tuesday on as well.  Or you can catch him live yourself.  He’s touring the states until the middle of February.  Tour dates are here.

John Diliberto ((( echoes )))

Echo Location: Ottmar Liebert’s The Scent of Light-Echoes August CD of the Month

July 30, 2008

Nouveau Flamenco creator goes wide-screen on The Scent of Light

(You can hear an audio version of this Echo Location with music.)

Ottmar Liebert would be the last person to call his music straight-up flamenco. His rhythmic strumming interspersed with intricate finger picking and Spanish rhythms comes from that tradition, but Liebert’s approach is more languid and less florid than most flamenco players. That’s one reason why he called his debut album, Nouveau Flamenco when he burst on the scene in 1990. It conjures up the southwestern desert landscapes of his home in Sante Fe more than sensual Spanish dancers. Nouveau Flamenco

Liebert has taken an introspective and experimental path that flies in the face of music purity and even fans’ expectations. He’s recorded an album of classical music with orchestra, Leaning Into the Night, that featured original tunes and compositions by Ravel, Satie and Puccini. That CD was something of an about face from his 1990’s love affair with electronics. He got the remix treatment on Euphoria, where Steve Hillage, Steve Be Zet and Aki Nawaz brought electronic beats to his music. That was followed up by his psychedelic epic, a double CD called Opium that was a Nouveau Ambient Flamenco journey. Opium

The ambient influence has remained a subtle force in Ottmar Liebert’s music. He uses electronics to gently shape the acoustic space around his guitar and band, Luna Negra. That’s evident on his new CD, The Scent of Light. The Scent of Light

The music on The Scent of Light builds slowly, each piece carving out a contemplative space until before you know it, the dynamic has completely changed. A centerpiece of the album is “Silence, No More Longing.” It’s an 11 minute excursion that builds from solo guitar, to multi-tracked guitars adding ambient electronics, bass, percussion, and finally unleashing a quiet electric storm from guitarist Stephen Duros.

In many ways, The Scent of Light is a direct descendent of his 1993 CD, The Hours Between Night and Day. Like that album, many of the songs here are inspired by Liebert’s travels, and he went beyond his standard ensemble line-up for more lush, evocative arrangements full of ambient shadows and environmental sounds.

The Scent of Light is full of subtle, but unexpected touches. There’s the reverse percussion echoes on “Firelight,” the call and response guitars of “The River: Writing in Water,” and the tamboura drone and tabla that comes in through “Candlelight.” The mellotron flutes and reverse guitar bring “Moonlight” to a haunting close as it dissolves dissolving into birds and wind. Liebert takes you from a world of interior ruminations to exterior vistas.

Ottmar Liebert is calling The Scent of Light his best album ever. I’ll need more time for that kind of assessment, but it’s certainly one of his best. It’s our Echoes CD of the Month for August.  We’ll be featuring it in a special show on Monday, August 4.  Check for for more information.  A separate review of The Scent of Light  will be live on the site shortly.

John Diliberto,  July 30, 2008                                                                                                              (((echoes)))

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