By Devon Wendell
It was a night of guitar virtuosity and refreshing originality Friday, when six string acoustic guitar master Laurence Juber dazzled his fans with a solo set at Mcabe’s in Santa Monica. Juber is best known for his stint as lead guitarist for Paul McCartney’s Wings and his dedication to his very unique finger picking guitar style.
He opened a far-reaching, eclectic set with an acoustic guitar piece entitled “Catch!,” which brought to mind the great country “folk” blues guitar masters Mississippi John Hurt and Mance Lipscomb. Juber effortlessly combined rhythm, walking bass lines, and lead guitar parts with confidence and dexterity, tapping the fingerboard, and incorporating open string harmonics. The pace and chord structuring of this composition also had fragments of jazz and ragtime reminiscent of Django Reinhardt’s finest playing.
Next was “Baby, I’m Amazed,” a nod to Juber’s comrade and former employer. In it, he proved to be a one man band, simultaneously playing McCartney’s vocal parts, as well as the original tune’s orchestration with a unique sense of harmonic movement. Juber’s love for McCartney and the Fab Four was also evident in a brilliant but poignant take on “Strawberry Fields Forever.“ The song had a powerful fusing of folk, classical, country and blues as Juber tapped the frets of the guitar with his right hand, thumping the low notes with his thumb, slowly bending a string and using a vocal-like vibrato and fast hammer- ons.
His next piece, “Cobalt Blulre,” conjured up the ghost of Skip James, with slick finger picking and a stark yet beautiful melody. “Wooden Horses” had a Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed country twang to it. In the only down side, Juber’s seemingly endless imagination, though flawless in its technique, at times felt a little too automatic and rehearsed on this number and lacked the daringness and power of some of the other tunes. But he was a great showman, playing with one hand, and aggressively banging away at the body of the guitar with the other to create odd counter-rhythms.
In one of the true highlights of the evening, “Stormy Weather” was done as a flamenco-tinged ballad, in which Juber managed to sound like three guitarists, all perfectly playing in sync with each other, with a metronome like rhythm alternating between razor sharp runs and high note arpeggios. “Highway 1” had a sinister flamenco feel – Andres Segovia hitting a California Freeway with a vanful of blues masters — with Juber’s sense of fusion and dynamics leading the way.
The most unusual number of the evening, however, was a hilarious, folky version of the Beatles classic “I Saw Her Standing There.” Juber captured the vocal harmonies perfectly with each carefully placed chord and nuance. And the tune’s blues aspects were never abandoned, even as Juber explored new musical realms through this fascinating blast from the past. The equally playful tribute to the Sherman Brother’s Mary Poppins chestnut, “A Spoonful Of Sugar,” was flat out funny, with wonderfully odd musical choices and chord structuring.
Next up was the title track to Juber’s 1998 recording Mosaic, which felt a lot like Jimmy Page’s mystical acoustic explorations with Led Zeppelin, with bluesy runs and fast vibrato in an open tuning. His “Guitar Noir” was a minor key lament that lived up to its title with a smoky atmosphere, suggesting images of Bogey as Philip Marlow — or Lauren Bacall blowing a kiss into the foggy night. Juber’s high note pentatonic scales and throaty bass note phrasing created a wide range of dynamics and tonal possibilities.
The rock’n’rollish piece “Stolen Moments” closed the set. Juber snapped the strings with his knuckles beating on the guitar with ferocity. Using a G minor tuning, he played a furry of piano-like chords, while layering rich harmonic textures and always returning to the established theme of the piece.
Summing up, Laurence Juber demonstrated to the attentive audience at Mcabe’s a playing style in which his guitar was a virtual extension of his body and his whimsical personality. The result was an immensely entertaining, musically diverse performance filled with soul, fun, and virtuosic precision.
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