Editor Evan Haga Introduces the July-August 2013 Issue

The world on six strings—guitars galore

George Benson at New Orleans Jazz Fest 2013, Weekend One image 0
Greg Aiello

George Benson at New Orleans Jazz Fest 2013, Weekend One

Can we all agree that the guitar is one remarkable instrument? There really is no limit to the technologies, techniques and ideas that can be applied to it, and this year’s guitar-themed issue illustrates that fact. We delve into the elegant, pop-concise guitar work of George Benson; the wide-ranging, cross-generational duo of Nels Cline and Julian Lage; the hard-swinging pickers who’ve collaborated with the great jazz organists; Pat Metheny’s unforeseen John Zorn project; the hushed Brazilian accompaniment of Romero Lubambo; the freight-train rhythmists of classic jazz; and much more.

In early May, I thought a lot about the guitar’s unparalleled adaptability while sloshing around the mucky New Orleans Fair Grounds during the second weekend of Jazz Fest. This annual fete celebrates the durability of American musical forms, particularly the blues, in a way that suggests a grand musicological experiment: Wandering from tent to tent, stage to stage, it’s incredible to hear how many overhauls and permutations that language can undergo. Within this exercise, often at its center, is the guitar, fulfilling duties from the workmanlike to the extraordinary.

If it was intellect and organic tone you sought, there was Astral Project’s seven-string guru, Steve Masakowski. For NOLA-born groove that could not be stopped, there was Leo Nocentelli, onstage with the “Meter Men.” During a main-stage headlining set by Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Pete Murano flaunted the virtuosic flash that has turned the electric six-string into a sort of populist fantasy. Punctuating Norah Jones’ vocal parts in the Little Willies, Jim Campilongo burrowed into the idiomatic qualities of a particular guitar model, making unmistakable use of his Telecaster. (While we’re here, it’s worth mentioning Willie Nelson’s magical touch on Trigger, his trusty, ancient Martin acoustic. At times he evoked Eddie Lang, I swear.) For sheer astonishment-with regards to speed, sonics or any facet, really-there was Widespread Panic’s Jimmy Herring, modeling his John McLaughlin influence in no uncertain terms.

Yes, I realize it was Jazz Fest, and there were more than a few trumpets, trombones, saxophones and bass drums vying for my attention. They received it, along with my joy and admiration. But in terms of scope, the guitar couldn’t be beat.