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January/February 2004

Gene Bertoncini
Acoustic Romance
Sons of Sound
Gene Bertoncini
The Good Stuff: A Tribute to Charlie Byrd
Noteworthy Records

While electric instruments dominate the jazz guitar world, a minority of players choose to use the acoustic nylon-string, not only for its sonic properties but also because it more agreeably supports fingerstyle technique, which opens up a whole spectrum of musical possibilities not otherwise obtainable. One of the finest players among this discerning breed is Gene Bertoncini, whose command of harmony and texture can transform even the most mundane tune into an intriguing, multidimensional masterpiece, something he does with certainty on both Acoustic Romance and The Good Stuff, varying projects that showcase the scope of his considerable abilities. Lurking behind Acoustic Romance's schmaltzy title and '60s-era graphics are some serious solo guitar and trio performances (with bassist Rufus Reed and drummer Akira Tana), recorded in 1992. In the former category, "Edelweiss" and "'Round Midnight" undergo a series of brilliant variations that encompass details like varied textures and sublime reharmonizations. Ensemble tracks like "Girl Talk," "Gone With the Wind" and "Emily" have many of the same qualities; however, they also give Bertoncini a chance to do some tasteful single-note work that, among other things, demonstrates that he can swing mightily.

Recorded in 2001, The Good Stuff grew out of a concert at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory in support of the Charlie Byrd Scholarship Fund. Most of the tunes were associated with Byrd, a long-time advocate of both Brazilian music and the nylon-string guitar's use in jazz, and while Bertoncini headlines the program, also participating are bassist Joe Byrd (Charlie's brother), drummer/vibraphonist Chuck Redd, electric guitarist Steve Abshire, drummer Mike Shepherd and saxophonist John Doughten. The opener, "One Note Samba," finds Bertoncini and Abshire getting in some enthusiastic single-note ideas and fun counterpoint, while vibes and guitar harmonize the melody to Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," a nice vehicle for some swinging solos. And if you don't think the nylon-string can get down, give a listen to Bertoncini's funky work on "BBARDS Blues," which include a nice four-bar round robin that gives everybody a chance to be heard.

Acoustic Romance is more polished than The Good Stuff, a more impromptu outing, but both offer excellent views of Bertoncini's impressive scope as an arranger and improviser that would have Charlie smiling. Beautiful work from one of the guitar's greatest underhailed players.

Originally published in January/February 2004
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