November 2008

Gene Bertoncini
Ambient Records

One of the preeminent fingerstyle guitarists on the scene today, 71-year-old Gene Bertoncini has been called “the Segovia of jazz” for his mastery of contrapuntal lines, along with his uncanny melodic invention and harmonic nuance. On this brilliant-sounding CD, recorded in the Super Audio format at Ambient Recording studios in Stamford, Conn., Bertoncini is joined by bassist David Finck and a stellar string quartet—first-violinist Mark Feldman, second-violinist Rob Moose, violist Kelly Dylia and cellist Dana Leong—under the conduction of Michael Patterson, a colleague of Bertoncini’s from the Eastman School of Music. While the lustrous tones of Bertoncini’s nylon-string Buscarino classical guitar are typically warm and inviting, and his fluid technique is spellbinding, it is the remarkable string quartet that elevates Concerti to a very special place in the guitarist’s discography as a leader, which stretches back to 1977’s Bridges.

Their radical take on “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” arranged by Fred Sturm, serves as a microcosm for the project. Bertoncini opens with an extended section of beautiful unaccompanied guitar, showcasing his signature contrapuntal genius on the six-string. He drops out and the strings continue the melodic theme like a fugue. Finck then enters with deep, woody tones and walking momentum as he and Bertoncini romp through a swing section with the strings. Finck unleashes a furious solo, then the strings take off on a Philip Glass-like chorus.

On “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” a dissonant intro by the strings yields to gorgeous solo guitar work by Bertoncini while the strings set a melancholy mood on the delicate, waltz-time number “For Chet” (either Baker or Atkins, I’m guessing). Finck brings his extensive experience in Brazilian music to bear on a bossa-flavored rendition of “Invitation” and on Jobim’s “How Insensitive,” along with a buoyant samba romp through the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.” They close on a dramatic note with a medley of Rodridgo’s somber “Concierto de Aranjuez” and Chick Corea’s vibrant “Spain,” which Bertoncini flies over with elegance and élan.

Originally published in November 2008

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