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Guitarist Peter Sprague played a rare South Bay gig at the Liberty Hall Theatre in National City on Sunday, even more rare was the inclusion of his multi-instrumentalist brother Tripp Sprague, along with bassist Gunnar Biggs, drummer Duncan Moore and special guest vocalist Jeffery Smith who executive produces the monthly concert series.

Sprague launched into a brand new tune "Sequoia", which started out as a gentle samba in the tradition of "Words & Music," or any number of Peter's lilting Brazilian flavored pieces. "Sequoia" quickly branched-out, if you will, into a kaleidoscopic display of ever shifting scene changes. Throughout it all, the tune was guided by Sprague's incredibly cleanly articulated chord progressions and the laid back virtuosity of brother Tripp's Lester Young meets Joe Farell tenor saxophone artistry. The guitarist followed with pianistic voice-leading surrounding spiraling lines and chromatic sequences.

The uncanny interplay continued with an almost baroque arrangement of the standard, "I Hear A Rhapsody," which snaked tenor and guitar lines around each other like "free-love," anaconda style. The saxophonist began with easy flowing lines that gradually built in tension around the muscular walking of Biggs, who took over with a pliant and fluid solo himself.

Another Sprague original followed, the soulful "Calling Me Home," which he described as a "kind of folk-ish James Taylor," type groove. Right. Maybe if James Taylor had been raised by Andres Segovia and Joe Pass ! Tripp Sprague wowed with his keening chromatic-harmonica work, made more piquant by Biggs' rich whole notes.

An out-of-the-box arrangement of the Beatle's classic "Can't Buy Me Love," was next. After dispensing the melody, the tune boiled down to a bluesy "swing-fest" that would have made Count Basie smile. Biggs' unadorned and sure-footed time keeping sponsored a dark, tenor sax soliloquy that danced around the changes, leading to a naked guitar/drums duet that brought 'Trane and Elvin to mind. Moore churned and roiled and needled Sprague's guitar to an even higher aesthetic--then, everyone dropped out for an arco solo by the bassist which seemed impossible at that tempo.

Vocalist Smith joined the group for a poignant and luxurious reading of "Angel Eyes." He seemed to "get" the melancholic message into the air without becoming maudlin, and the crowd ate it up. The cat can sing, for sure, and his resonant baritone conveyed the wisdom of experience through struggle quite well.

For the closer, the band adopted a reggae feel for an exploration of the Lennon /McCartney jewel, "With A Little Help From My Friends." At least, that's where they started. By the time it was over, each musician interpreted the form in a fashion so unique that the original idea expanded to a place far, far away.

Like Pat Metheny, Sprague's music has always illuminated the possibility of connecting with the joy of life. More often than not, Sprague manages to make that connection real.

photo by Archer

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