by Josef Woodard

GUITARS GALORE: Just more than a
quarter-century back, the Los Angeles Guitar
first convened, back in the day before the idea of
a classical guitar quartet was anything more than a novel offshoot
of standard classical practice. This group of bright-eyed and
ambitious young classical guitarists had a strong connection to the
USC guitar department and, specifically, the Romero family of
classical guitar heroes. (Of Spanish heritage, the Romeros lived in
Santa Barbara upon arriving in California.)

The LAGQ, being William Kanengiser,
Scott Tennant, Andrew York, and
John Dearman — an Angeleno who also teaches guitar
at UCSB — is inherently a more eclectic group than the more
traditional Romeros, and it has come a long way since humble
beginnings. So has the format the quartet helped to popularize. (By
cosmic coincidence, the Santa Fe Guitar Quartet
plays at the Museum of Art on May 15.) The group’s appearance in
the spring concert series at Los Olivos’s picturesque Dunn School
on April 29 comes in the wake of both a Grammy for the last album,
Guitar Heroes, and the glow of a strong new album, Spin, both on
the Telarc label.

A bold and varied set of pieces by band members and outside
composers, including beloved jazz arranger/composer Vince
, Spin is among the LAGQ’s finest albums yet. It’s
proof of a sure sense of identity and also a collective taste for
creative evolution. The Dunn performance is a fine, seriously
musical excuse to head over the 154 into wine country.

locally connected classical musicians of note, with a connection to
Dunn School (pardon the “speaking of …” device), violinist
Michelle Makarski played a memorable concert there
years back. Not long after, she moved east along with her violinist
husband Ron Copes, who landed the second-violin
spot in the esteemed Juilliard String Quartet. A
deep, refined, and lustrous new album on the ECM New Series label
(a happy label home in recent years) finds Makarski staking her
usual intriguing claim to programming and engaging in a couple of
duet ops with Copes.

Old marries new in fascinating ways on this album, called To Be
Sung on the Water. Makarski gives probing, beautiful readings of
solo sonatas by the under-appreciated 18th century Italian composer
Giuseppe Tartini, who influenced the better known
Corelli. Folded into the Tartini mix, and with a
disarming naturalness, are two works by the very much living and
thriving composer Donald Crockett. Crockett’s
aridly contemplative duet “To Be Sung on the Water” was expressly
written for Makarski and Copes in 1988, and “Mickey Finn” is a
tonally restless yet meditative solo piece from 1996. Crockett, a
longtime USC music department mainstay, is on the faculty with
another important composer whose music Makarski and Copes have
eloquently performed and recorded.

Among other positive impressions, Makarski’s album points out
the intriguing affinity between early and late music, on either
side of the huge garish river of Romanticism dividing them.

FLYING SOLO, PART TWO: One of the most
cherished live musical events in town last year was a solo piano
set by the remarkable Cuban-born pianist Gonzalo
at Campbell Hall. Though ostensibly opening for
Marcus Roberts’s trio, Rubalcaba’s set was so
overflowing with introspection, virtuosity, and mature musical
ideas, he handily stole the show.

Now comes his first solo album — called simply Solo (Blue
Note) — and it’s a minor masterpiece, certainly one of the season’s
top jazz recordings. To call it a “jazz” album only tells part of
the story, as Rubalcaba takes the occasion to showcase his myriad
musical interests, with shades of Cuban folk music, reflective
classical pieces reminiscent of Federico Mompou or
Satie, dizzying improvisations based on “Giant
Steps,” and a rainy-vibed version of the standard “Here’s that
Rainy Day.” He closes with the most sensitive and fresh take on
that classic “Bésame Mucho” you’re likely to hear. Don’t miss this
one. (Got e? Email


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