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Citizen Staff Writers



Sharon Isbin

“Plays Tan Dun/Rouse” (Wea/Atlantic/Teldec)

Anyone who thinks of the contemporary musical landscape as being as bleak and devoid of beauty as the face of the moon needs to hear the middle movement from guitarist Sharon Isbin’s new recording of American Christopher Rouse’s “Concert de Gaudi.”

Quiet and reflective to spell-like and mysterious, the 1999 score features beautiful writing for both the solo instrument and the orchestra. The orchestration is intimate and exotic, yet direct and lovely in its tonal support. The guitar, such as in Joaquin Rodrigo’s famous “Concierto de Aranjuez,” references the flamenco tradition.

Together, soloist and orchestra create a sacred tableau, pivoting in mood and color as the music shimmers in the ear.

Rouse drew the inspiration for his score almost literally from the work of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, and uses his unexpected twists, bends and exotic colors to shape the work in fascinating ways. The finale’s driving, polyrhythmic “sizzle and dance” sense of progression artfully references not just the architect but also the famous Rodrigo work, acting as a prism of time and soul. In the end, the work becomes the most worthy successor to the “Aranjuez” since the oft-played score was penned in 1939.

The disc is rounded out by another work commissioned by the multiple Grammy winning guitarist – Oscar-winning (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) Chinese born composer Tan Dun’s “1996 Concerto for Orchestra (Yi2).” Like the Rouse, it draws inspiration both from the flamenco tradition and other sources – in this case, growing up on a Chinese mountain where honored dead were buried.

Evocative, soulful, and with a remarkable sense of ritual, timelessness and community, it conveys both a universal sense of loss and remembrance. Throughout, the solo instrument alternates between pipa-like (the pipa is a Chinese lute) tremolos and raucous flamenco flourishes. Both are masterful, if very different, scores, moving the genre of the guitar concerto forward artfully and personally into the new millennium. • DB



Spirit Caravan

“Elusive Truth” (Tolotta Records)

This is a band that should be opening for Black Sabbath at this year’s Ozzfest (which, by the way, is skipping Arizona), rather than the Papa Roaches and Crazy Townies the big O tends to hire. Too bad for the kids who missed Sabbath in its heyday, because Spirit Caravan is just starting to roll with its own brand of heavy, mystical rock.

The term stoner rock is comfortably applied to SC, but as folks such as Sen. Joe Lieberman might imagine America’s youths firing up such tunes while smoking bongs with the devil in hell, it’s really just a tag that indicates a band weaned on Hawkwind, Led Zeppelin and Sabbath, deeply appreciative of distortion, and fueled by its own definition of spirituality. And while a diverse collection of groups garner the stoner rock label, Spirit Caravan, as evidenced on “Elusive Truth,” its second full-length album, continues to remain among those truest to form.

Generic descriptions aside, SC is a trio of talented musicians who have amazing chemistry together. Songs remain riff-based, as they were on 1999′s “Jug Fulla Sun,” and expand with tempo changes and guitarist/singer Wino’s fingerwork. And while his solos are less extensive on this album, at times the focus is more on intricacy – in “Find It,” for example, he tastefully weaves together at least four different guitar parts. The rhythm section is still steered by Gary Isom on drums and Dave Sherman on bass, and on a song like “Black Flower” they simply rip, as Isom gives the tom full justice and Sherman smoothly navigates each tempo change.

SC even gets a little goofy with “Retroman,” a tongue-in-cheek portrait of a particular intersection of fashion and stereotype. Sherman sings, sounding a bit like a slowed Wino (who sounds kind of like an angry Ozzy), “sideburn sportin’, ridin’ a Norton/ Stone-cold leader if you ever seen one/ smokin’ weed from the day he was born.” To quote Wino’s first word of the CD, “Yeah!” • PH



The WayBack Machine

“Who Knew (Live @ the Casbah)” (WayBack When/Major Knucklehead Productions)

If you remember the seventies . . . well, you don’t even have to remember them that well . . . your addled memory pan will resonate with the sounds on this album enthusiastically recorded by a bunch of card-carrying ex-hippies and their present-day friends. All the songs are covers. All the energy is sincere.

This live recording, made one magical evening at Fourth Avenue’s Casbah Teahouse last December, is built on the spontaneous efforts of singer-percussionist-entrepreneur Jim Lipson, singer-guitarist Tom Woolley, backup vocalist-rhythm guitarist Taza Guthrie, guitarist Bruce Blackstone, second percussionist Susie “B” Baines and bass player Beverly Seckinger. Special guests on a couple of numbers are Gary Mackender, accordion and T. Greg Squires, additional percussion.

If you believe in the concept of great garage bands, the therapeutic value of long guitar jams and the importance of enthusiasm for the music over technical skill with the musical instrument, this home-grown musical party on a CD belongs in your record collection. That little shiny disc may look like modern technology, but its heart is pure vinyl.

All 12 songs are covers from the old days. Titles include “Johnny B. Goode,” “Cripple Creek,” “San Antone,” “Unchain My Heart,” “Tupelo Honey” and “She’s Not There.”

The most fun is to just put your CD player on shuffle, crank up the volume and let nostalgia have its way with your brain. Years will fall away in seconds, wrinkles will disappear. Each song is filled with the spirit of its time.

If you can’t find a copy, write the WayBack Machine at PO Box 2535, Tucson, Ariz. 85702, or telephone 721-1710. • CG



SCORCHER: Belongs in your permanent collection.

HOT: You won’t be sorry.

BATHWATER: Worth a listen, but you’ll get bored after 15 minutes.

FROSTBITE: Save yourself the pain.

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