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REVIEW: John Jorgenson Quartet makes brilliance look easy

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:55 pm   ::  

CEDAR RAPIDS -- Musical virtuosity can be expressed a number of ways.

One common way involves a high level of flashiness combined with a palpable sense that the amazing musical moment is testing the outer limits of the musician’s abilities — a test the artist sets him or herself and invites the audience to witness in real time. Fingers flash across keys at hyperspeed, the natural range of an instrument is expanded, a note is held for an inhuman amount of time. This sort of virtuosity can be thrilling, charging up an audience (and a musician) with the sheer bravado of it all.

Another flavor of virtuosity is quieter, but no less amazing. It creates the illusion of effortlessness. It was this sort of virtuosity that was on display Sunday night (2/24/13)  at CSPS as Legion Arts presented the John Jorgenson Quartet.

Jorgenson is a brilliant guitarist and he led his gypsy swing band through an endlessly appealing night of music that was infused with warmth, both in terms of the band’s sound and its embrace of the audience.

Jorgenson started things off very quietly, musically asking that the audience to listen intently as the concert got under way. Before the first two songs were in the books, it was clear that Jorgenson surrounds himself with stellar players. It was also clear that he was more than a guitarist as he delivered a woody and winning clarinet solo.

Simon Planting was wonderful all night long on the standup bass, laying down intricate lines that underpinned Jorgenson’s work as well as that of violinist Jason Anick. Anick shares Jorgenson’s gift for making the difficult seem easy, tearing through technical passages and delivering lyrical moments with a smile. His musical interactions with Jorgenson seemed like easy, witty conversations between good friends.

Meanwhile, Rick Reed laid down the rhythm with just a snare drum, high-hat, tambourine and splash cymbal. Using only brushes or his hands, he kept the pulse lightly, offering just the right fills in an unobtrusive but interesting way.

I particularly enjoyed the numbers on which Jorgenson played the bouzouki, a Greek instrument with a sound reminiscent of, but less twangy than, a banjo. The instrument was one manifestation of the band's multicultural musical influences.

Much of the concert was devoted to music from his acclaimed “One Stolen Night” album, as well as to new music -- some so new it remains untitled -- from a forthcoming record.

The band closed with a barn-burner called “Ghost Dance.” I was struck by how, even as the notes rushed by, the song never seemed hurried or frenetic. The encore was a lullaby, and it soothed without losing its textures or intricacies. Like all the music that had come before, both songs seemed perfect — and perfectly performed. The capacity crowd showed its appreciation with an immediate and enthusiastic standing ovation.

 

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