By Don Heckman
Medford, Oregon. At first glance, an ensemble consisting of three guitars and a singer would seem to possess limited areas of musical expressiveness – however much one loves the guitar. And there it was, on stage Wednesday night at Medford’s Artistic Piano Gallery – The New West Guitar Group with vocalist Halie Loren.
But if any members of the capacity audience had doubts about what they were going to hear, they were thoroughly dissipated before the Guitar Group’s first musical offering was concluded.
The New West Guitar Group is actually the trio of guitarists Perry Smith, John Storie and Will Brahm. On occasion, they have performed with such stellar vocalists as Tierney Sutton, Sara Gazarek, Gretchen Parlato and others.
For this performance, the vocal role was filled by Loren, another significant talent in her own right. And it wasn’t until the performance was over that I learned that Halie Loren was making her first appearance with the Guitar Group, and doing so with barely three hours of rehearsal preparation.
But that was no problem for this gifted group of musical artists. Their mesmerizing, two hour program was a stunning display of creative inventiveness. Embracing an impressive array of material, the selections included original works (by the guitarists as well as Loren), standard Songbook classics such as “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” and “All Or Nothing At All,” offbeat selections such as Kurt Weill’s “My Ship” and demanding works such as Dave Brubeck’s rhythmically challenging “Blue Rondo a la Turk” (in 9/8).
Each piece was arranged in a fashion exploring the full range of the individual players (and singer) as well as the extraordinary qualities of their collective playing. The arrangements ranged from rich harmonic textures recalling orchestral densities to simmering, big band style rhythmic passages. In several of the most striking sections, Loren’s singing was arranged as the lead voice in full, hard swinging ensemble passages. Equally stunning, they occasionally played jazz lines that opened up for her impressive scat improvisations.
In addition, the players all had ample solo opportunities and made the most of them. Each of the guitarists is an impressive jazz artist (as is Loren) and it was fascinating to hear the far reaching inventive skills.
It was, in other words, another superb entry in the Siskiyou Music Project‘s memorable musical evenings. For those who were not fortunate enough to be there to hear the pleasures of the music produced by the three guitarists of the New West Guitar Group and vocalist Halie Loren, each has produced impressive recordings. Don’t miss them. Start with:
The New West Guitar Group’s Send One Your Love
Halie Loren’s Butterfly Blue.