By Don Heckman
Talent, Oregon. Last Sunday night, New York’s great seven string guitarist Howard Alden gave a stunning display of the too rarely heard instrument’s expressive jazz potential in a performance at the Paschal Winery. The first half of the performance, produced by the Siskiyou Music Project, began with a far ranging program of solos by Alden. He was joined later by the Project’s fine
guitarist Ed Dunsavage in an equally diverse set of seven string guitar duets. All in all, it was musical delight for an enthusiastic, full house audience.
The seven string guitar is rich with musical potential. Slightly larger than a typical guitar, it is generally played with an additional string – usually B or C on the bottom. And in the hands of players such as Alden and Dunsavage, it has a virtual orchestral potential via a stunning range of sounds and textures.
Alden didn’t waste any time in the first set, soaring through a diverse collection of tunes. Highly regarded as a master guitarist, he displayed his inventive improvisational techniques as he brought a vivid sense of swing to everything he touched. He concentrated on works by Duke Ellington, as well as selections by the veteran 7-string guitarist George Van Epps. He also played a brief set on his banjo.
The results were captivating as he spontaneously improvised his way through a diverse repertoire. From “My Shining Hour, “Maple Leaf Rag,” “Ain’t Misbhavin’,” and “Nagasaki” “ to “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart,” “Single Petal of A Rose” and more. An engaging performer, Alden’s technical skills were extraordinary on an instrument that provided him with broad range of expression. But even more notable was the convincing musical interpretations he brought to this unique collection of songs.
The second half of the program brought Dunsavage on stage with Alden in a meeting of two seven string guitarists. And the combination was a double down encounter of sounds, rhythms and sheer excitement. Both players seemed inspired by their musical dialogue, and further challenged by another colorful array of songs that included “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “Alone Together,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “I Hear You,” “The House On the Hill,” among numerous others.
In the final encore, Alden further displayed his skill in a delightful solo guitar version of Thelonous Monk’s “Crepuscule with Nellie” and Django Reinhardt’s “Tears.” As a final touch Alden charmed everyone with a few vocals revealing an easy warmth toward his responsive audience.
No wonder they were so reluctant to let Howard Alden finish an evening of music that will surely remain in his listeners’ memories for years.