Scenes from Guitar Marathon 2004

On January 25th, 2004 we held our second all-day guitar extravaganza. The marathon event brought together guitarists from around the world and received extensive media coverage. Below is a review that ran in the New York Times on January 30, 2004.

"Exploring Ways to Make Guitar Strings Sing"
The guitar was a concept and work in progress, not a standardized instrument, during the Guitar Marathon at the 92nd Street Y on Sunday, the main event of the New York Guitar Festival. In eight hours of music by 16 pickers — acoustic and electric, solo and with groups — the marathon presented an instrument that composers, musicians and builders can't resist tinkering with as they seek ways to make plucked strings sing. 
It was a showcase for design along with musicianship. The players brought unusual instruments like Ed Gerhard's and Steve Kimock's Weissenborn guitars — lap slide guitars with hollow necks that bring out mellow, lower-register resonances — and Bob Brozman's gleaming, sculptural National steel guitar and baritone guitar. Henry Kaiser and David Torn brandished electric guitars in angular, science-fiction shapes. 
Dominic Frasca played unique acoustic guitars: a 10-string guitar with a mixture of steel and nylon strings and a six-string guitar with slats of wood near the sound hole for percussion. He played them by picking and tapping the strings with both hands, in pieces that translated the mathematical, hypnotic patterns of Minimalism into pointillistic music. 
The program reached back to the Renaissance, with Paul O'Dette playing elegant sets of variations for lute. It presented cornerstones of the classical-guitar repertory, as Michael Newman performed the five moody guitar preludes by Heitor Villa-Lobos, and David Starobin explored 19th-century pieces by Fernando Sor with exquisite variations of timbre and attack. 
Dennis Koster's dynamic set of flamenco guitar sometimes had him pattering the fast rhythms of a dancer's heels on the guitar body amid his feathery arpeggios and feverish tremolos. The duo of the Malian griot Abdoulaye Diabate and the American guitarist Banning Eyre sang and played ancient West African songs with plucked patterns that have migrated from traditional kora (harp) and ngoni (lute) to guitar. 
The afternoon concert continued with exercises in restraint. Mr. Gerhard played serene, folksy melodies in the middle register of his guitars, with just a few supportive notes chiming around them. The jazz guitarist Russell Malone tiptoed through elaborately reharmonized songs, with quietly pinging counterpoint and velvety, lightly swinging block chords. The songwriter Patty Larkin, who can sound like Joni Mitchell with a Celtic bent, let her guitar speak as briskly and forthrightly as her voice. 
The evening concert explored more extremes, from the near-whisper of Vinicius Cantuaria's bossa novas to the meditative, Indian-tinged improvisations of Mr. Kimock to shrieks of feedback from Mr. Kaiser and Mr. Torn. David Cullen's acoustic-guitar pieces followed through on the eclecticism of musicians like Ralph Towner, touching down in blues and folk before adding superstructures of jazz chords and echoes of flamenco. Mr. Brozman's manic set, interspersed with one-liners about fighting the steamroller of American culture, jumped from Trinidad to Hawaii to India to Madagascar, bouncing syncopated chords, harmonics and quick slide licks around his guitars. Mr. Newman and Laura Oltman, his longtime duet partner, played the premiere of Michael Karmon's "Caught in the Headlights," volleying impressionistic chords and pensive melodies. 
Mr. Kaiser and Mr. Torn both led free-improvising trios. Mr. Kaiser, with Lukas Ligeti on drums and Raoul Bjorkenheim on electric viola da gamba, played textural explorations that ambled and rippled toward warped funk. And Mr. Torn, with Fima Ephron on bass and Ben Perowsky on drums, ended the marathon with eerie, ominous gusts and squalls and stomping backbeats: hard-rock, horror-movie soundtracks that turned the guitar into an electronic banshee. 
- Jon Pareles
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Bookmark and Share