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James Moore Reinvents Classical Guitar at Space 4 Art

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Last night's second installment of Bonnie Wright's Fresh Sound concert series at Space 4 Art featuring classical guitarist James Moore was a prime example of out-of-the-box programming — and a knockout success for all involved.

Space 4 Art was packed with attentive listeners, who got an earful of contemporary music written for the guitar by iconic composer Lou Harrison, free-jazz maverick John Zorn, and premiers by Larry Polansky and Molly Thompson, who was in the audience.

Moore's solo outing was performed on the National Resonator guitar, a highly unusual choice for a classical guitar recital. It's just one of many stringed instruments the musician has mastered, and it offered a uniquely sonorous pallet for the works at hand.

Moore began with Harrison's 1952 "Serenade," a deftly exercised fingerstyle etude with gentle, open-string chordal motion and resonant overtones. He continued with a haunting Celtic-sounding melody which surfaced out of contrapuntal harmony. "Music for Bill & Me," carried on in the pastoral themes and open-string voicings, while "Jala," sounded the most "classical," of all, with straight up and down rhythmic motion and a Baroque type of feel.

Next up were seven short etudes from the pen of John Zorn, performed with fingers, plastic chop-sticks, small balloons, a violin bow, a glass slide, a notched stick and hilarious vocalizations. Strange clusters were offset by the sound of balloons on strings or wild manipulations of the slide, like Muddy Waters having a seizure, notes above the nut and below the bridge were elicted, and tonality was generally abused like a CEO at an S&M club.

After a short intermission, Moore returned with an even more challenging program. The Polansky works began innocently enough with "Eskimo Lullaby," which featured descending diatonic harmonies laced with pensive harmonics and Moore's plaintive singing voice — all to great effect. "Sweet Betsy from Pike," was based on an old folk song, which Moore sang, straight-faced while his background accompaniment got increasingly atonal--almost violent as each chorus passed. Moore is one hell of a sight-reader, because this music called for some hellacious fingerings and ear-busting densities. Toward the end, his fret-work reminded me of Derek Bailey channeling Lighting Hopkins.

The program closed with his reading of Thompson's "Blowback," which opened with eerie harmonics and stair-stepped harmonies, then got increasingly chaotic. Moore plugged into a tiny, battery-powered amplifier, and started attacking the instrument like Joe Strummer bashing the theme to the Twilight Zone on a Harry Partch guitar.

It couldn't have possibly strayed further from the stereotypical expectations of "classical-guitar." I doubt Moore would get many calls for weddings or other casual work based on this performance — and that's a good thing — probably for everybody.

Photo by Michael Klayman

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Last night's second installment of Bonnie Wright's Fresh Sound concert series at Space 4 Art featuring classical guitarist James Moore was a prime example of out-of-the-box programming — and a knockout success for all involved.

Space 4 Art was packed with attentive listeners, who got an earful of contemporary music written for the guitar by iconic composer Lou Harrison, free-jazz maverick John Zorn, and premiers by Larry Polansky and Molly Thompson, who was in the audience.

Moore's solo outing was performed on the National Resonator guitar, a highly unusual choice for a classical guitar recital. It's just one of many stringed instruments the musician has mastered, and it offered a uniquely sonorous pallet for the works at hand.

Moore began with Harrison's 1952 "Serenade," a deftly exercised fingerstyle etude with gentle, open-string chordal motion and resonant overtones. He continued with a haunting Celtic-sounding melody which surfaced out of contrapuntal harmony. "Music for Bill & Me," carried on in the pastoral themes and open-string voicings, while "Jala," sounded the most "classical," of all, with straight up and down rhythmic motion and a Baroque type of feel.

Next up were seven short etudes from the pen of John Zorn, performed with fingers, plastic chop-sticks, small balloons, a violin bow, a glass slide, a notched stick and hilarious vocalizations. Strange clusters were offset by the sound of balloons on strings or wild manipulations of the slide, like Muddy Waters having a seizure, notes above the nut and below the bridge were elicted, and tonality was generally abused like a CEO at an S&M club.

After a short intermission, Moore returned with an even more challenging program. The Polansky works began innocently enough with "Eskimo Lullaby," which featured descending diatonic harmonies laced with pensive harmonics and Moore's plaintive singing voice — all to great effect. "Sweet Betsy from Pike," was based on an old folk song, which Moore sang, straight-faced while his background accompaniment got increasingly atonal--almost violent as each chorus passed. Moore is one hell of a sight-reader, because this music called for some hellacious fingerings and ear-busting densities. Toward the end, his fret-work reminded me of Derek Bailey channeling Lighting Hopkins.

The program closed with his reading of Thompson's "Blowback," which opened with eerie harmonics and stair-stepped harmonies, then got increasingly chaotic. Moore plugged into a tiny, battery-powered amplifier, and started attacking the instrument like Joe Strummer bashing the theme to the Twilight Zone on a Harry Partch guitar.

It couldn't have possibly strayed further from the stereotypical expectations of "classical-guitar." I doubt Moore would get many calls for weddings or other casual work based on this performance — and that's a good thing — probably for everybody.

Photo by Michael Klayman

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