By Don Heckman
Strunz and Farah have been around for so long that it can be easy to take them for granted. The two-guitar partnership of Costa Rican-born Jorge Strunz and Iranian native Ardeshir Farah reaches back to their first CD, Mosaico, released in 1980. And their three-decade musical relationship (lasting longer than many marriages) has positioned them as one of the original, as well as one of the continually prominent ensembles, in the World Music genre.
The reasons for that remarkable career longevity were on full display in their performance at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. on Tuesday night. There was, first of all, the utterly symbiotic relationship between their guitars. Both affirmed their virtuosic skills, tossing off incredibly rapid-fire melodic lines with almost casual ease. Their compositional offerings ranged confidently from Latin American dance beats and new flamenco to Middle Eastern rhythms and scales, with occasional glances in the direction of klezmer.
Every note was ably supported by the stellar playing of flutist/clarinetist Rob Hardt, bassist Carlitos del Puerto and percussionist Jimmy Branly.
Highlights came one after the other. Strunz generally claimed a somewhat larger share of the spotlight, ripping through one solo after another with finger-burning speed. Despite the amazing rapidity, however, his improvising always offered even more, via melodic phrasing and driving rhythms. Farah’s solos were equally dynamic, and his enthusiastic presence, constantly interacting with the other players, helped spark the evening’s musical pyrotechnics.
In a new piece titled “Rattle Tattle,” clarinetist Hardt – a vital participant throughout the evening – stepped forward with a stunning solo, power-mixing elements of Eastern European klezmer with propulsive jazz phrasing. Another work, “Caspian Night,” showcased Hardt’s flute in an evocative Middle Eastern setting. Regardless of the musical orientation, Branly – playing cajon, bongos and cymbals in smiling, high-spirited fashion – joined with the always dependable, driving bass of del Puerto to keep the music firmly on track.
There have been times in the past when Vibrato’s audiences have been more attentive to the venue’s fine cuisine and their own socializing than to the music. But not so on this night. Strunz, Farah and their players fully claimed the responsiveness of the full house crowd. And with good cause. Thirty years together have only enhanced the musical appeal of this insistently creative duo.
Photos by Faith Frenz